Vietnam to deport American detained during mass protests

Mr William Anh Nguyen being escorted by policemen to a courtroom for his trial in Ho Chi Minh City yesterday. The American of Vietnamese descent was accused of "causing public disorder" during mass protests last month sparked by concerns over the dev
Mr William Anh Nguyen being escorted by policemen to a courtroom for his trial in Ho Chi Minh City yesterday. The American of Vietnamese descent was accused of "causing public disorder" during mass protests last month sparked by concerns over the development of economic zones.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HANOI • A Vietnamese court has ordered the deportation of an American man of Vietnamese descent detained during nationwide protests last month, state media reported yesterday.

Mr William Anh Nguyen, 32, was accused of "causing public disorder" during the mass protests, sparked by concerns that the development of economic zones by offering land leases for up to 99 years would be dominated by investors from China.

Mr Nguyen was to be released and "deported immediately" after his one-day trial ended yesterday, the Ho Chi Minh City Law newspaper said.

"The jury acknowledged that the defendant admitted his illegal activities. Considering his sincerity, the court did not hand him a prison sentence," the state-run newspaper reported.

"We are pleased that the case of US citizen William Nguyen has been resolved," Mr James Thrower, a spokesman at the US Embassy in Hanoi, said in a statement.

"We understand from the court's decision that he will be deported after paying a fine."

Vietnam's Constitution allows freedom of assembly, but protests are often broken up by police.

A public disorder charge carries a prison term of up to seven years, according to Vietnam's criminal code.

"We are pleased that William Nguyen will be reunited and returning home with his family," said Mr Francisco Bencosme, Asia-Pacific advocacy manager at Amnesty International USA.

"However, we don't believe he should have been detained and charged in the first place for freely expressing himself and exercising his (human) right to protest," Mr Bencosme said.

Mr Nguyen's trial came two weeks after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the issue of his detention during meetings with Vietnamese officials in Hanoi and asked for a "speedy resolution" to his case.

State media reports said Mr Nguyen was "gathering and causing trouble" during the protests and was filmed urging others to climb over barricades. Video footage of Mr Nguyen shared on social media showed he had blood on his head during the June demonstration.

The Vietnamese government had denied any use of force against him, and had allowed US consular officials to visit him in detention.

On Wednesday, 19 US lawmakers wrote to Mr Pompeo, asking him to secure Mr Nguyen's release.

"As elected representatives of Mr Nguyen's family, and the greater Vietnamese-American community, we remain very concerned about the seriousness of the pending charges and the sentence he faces," said the letter, reviewed by Reuters.

Police in the country arrested dozens of people during June's protests, which spanned several cities and turned violent in the central province of Binh Thuan.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2018, with the headline 'Vietnam to deport American detained during mass protests'. Print Edition | Subscribe