Student held in Vietnam confesses on TV to causing trouble

William Nguyen, a Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy student, was detained in Ho Chi Minh City after attending mass protests.
William Nguyen, a Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy student, was detained in Ho Chi Minh City after attending mass protests.

An American student detained in Vietnam for involvement in anti-government protests has expressed regret for breaking the law and promised to stay away from future rallies.

William Nguyen, 32, appeared on Vietnamese state television on Monday saying: "I understand that my acts violated (the law)... I regret that I caused trouble for people heading to the airport. I blocked traffic and caused trouble to my family and friends."

"I will not join any anti-state activities any more," reported Agence France-Presse (AFP), quoting him.

The graduate student of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) was detained in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10 after attending mass demonstrations against draft laws to develop special economic zones, which would grant investors 99-year leases.

Protesters feared that land would end up in the hands of China, with which Vietnam has a fraught relationship.

The Vietnamese police said that Nguyen was being investigated for "causing public disorder", reported AFP.

But a close friend of Nguyen's, Ms Inkar Aitkuzhina, 24, said in his defence that it seemed he was "in the wrong place at the wrong time".

"He really loves Vietnam, and I don't believe he went there with the intent to do anything wrong or violent," she said of Nguyen, who is a US citizen born and raised in Texas.

He was in Vietnam on vacation, before his July graduation from LKYSPP.

On the day of the protest, he posted that chaos had broken out after police struck a protester.

Later, video footage online showed him with a bloodied head and being dragged by men in plainclothes through the streets, before being taken into custody.

Nguyen's sister Victoria, who is based in the United States, told The Straits Times she was angry and frustrated, and did not know when her brother might be released.

The family had contacted several US congressmen for help, and yesterday, Ms Nguyen posted pictures of a letter signed by 15 members of Congress calling for US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to make "swift intervention".

Human Rights Watch Asia division deputy director Phil Robertson said: "Given that he has given a confession that was likely extracted under duress, I expect that Vietnam will likely release and deport him, and unfortunately blacklist him from ever entering the country again."

He added that Vietnam does respond to external pressure, noting that the case has caught the attention of the US Congress.

In response to media queries, an LKYSPP spokesman said the school is aware of the incident and is cooperating with the authorities.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2018, with the headline 'Student held in Vietnam confesses on TV to causing trouble'. Print Edition | Subscribe