The American who was arrested while protesting in Vietnam has been visited by at least one U.S. diplomat since he was taken into custody, the State Department said Friday.
Will Nguyen, a 32-year-old masters degree student at Singapore University, was on vacation in Vietnam when he joined a protest against a land concession proposed by Chinese investors and was seized by several men in civilian clothes and hauled off into a police vehicle, bleeding from a head wound. Nguyen’s Airbnb host informed his family that police had searched the apartment where he was staying and had confiscated his U.S. passport, his laptop and credit cards.
The State Department said that it is “deeply concerned” by reports that Nguyen was injured during the June 10 arrest in Ho Chi Minh City.
Consular officers engaged with the Vietnamese government over Nguyen’s arrest, and visited with him in a Ho Chi Minh city lockup in Friday.
“His safety and the safety of all U.S. citizens is of the utmost concern to the United States,” the State Department said in its statement. “The Vietnamese government permitted consular access to Mr. Nguyen on June 15. We will continue to push for continued and regular access by consular officers to Mr. Nguyen, in the interest of ensuring due process and fair treatment.”
The Nguyen family was one of the thousands families that left Vietnam to escape the Vietnam war in the 1970s.
While Nguyen and and his sister Victoria were raised in the United States, Vietnam remained in his consciousness.
“He’s very involved with politics of Southeast Asia because it’s the field that he studies,” Victoria Nguyen told ABC News. “That’s what he studied in college. That’s what he went back to school for and earn his masters, so he is very much involved and knowledgeable about the Southeast Asia.”
Victoria Nguyen said she did not know of her brother’s arrest until she woke up Sunday to numerous miscalls, text messages from friends who were already aware of the arrest.
“It’s not illegal to protest in Vietnam, everybody can protest, but it’s the retribution that everybody is fearful of. I think that how that government works,” she said.
A video clip shared on social media shows the tumultuous protest and Nguyen being dragged down the street with blood on his head and his face surrounded by angry crowds.
According to Victoria, Will just finished up his masters degree program in public policy at the University of Singapore following his bachelors degree in Southeast Asia studies at Yale University.
“It’s our culture; it’s our background and, you know we embrace it; we’re really proud of it,” she said.
The Vietnamese Embassy in the U.S did not respond to several calls and emails seeking comment on the arrest.
Victoria Nguyen has been in contact with the State Department and several members of Congress to seek help to ensure the release of her brother.
“At this point we want him home. There is not reason for them to hold him,” she said. “I’m optimistic that they will do the right thing, and they will see that he meant no harm. He had good intention, when he went over there.”