UPDATED at 9:45 A.M. EST on 2018-06-13
Vietnamese authorities have beaten and arrested a Vietnamese-American citizen who tweeted about clashes between protesters and police in Ho Chi Minh City over government plans to grant long-term leases to foreign companies operating in special economic zones, sources familiar with the incident said Tuesday.
William (Will) Anh Nguyen, a 32-year-old from Houston, Texas, entered Vietnam on June 9 and was detained the following day in Ho Chi Minh City, also called Saigon, for participating in the protest where dozens of demonstrators were taken into custody, with some assaulted by police, they said.
Nguyen is visiting Vietnam before he receives a master’s degree in public policy in July from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said the sources who declined to be named.
During the weekend, thousands of Vietnamese citizens in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Nha Trang in south-central Vietnam’s coastal Khanh Hoa province publicly demonstrated against the communist government’s plan to sign into law a decree on special economic zones (SEZs) amid fear that leases for periods as long as 99 years in the areas could go to Chinese-owned and operated firms.
Nguyen participated in the rally in Ho Chi Minh City and filed accounts of the events on Twitter because he is passionate about Vietnamese socioeconomic issues, sources said.
In one of several tweets about the protests, Nguyen said the Vietnamese were also demonstrating against encroachment by China and a cybersecurity bill that would further restrict citizens’ use of the internet. The proposed law requires companies like Google and Facebook to delete posts considered “threatening” to national security and to store users’ personal information inside Vietnam.
There was a report that police injured Nguyen's head while detaining him, and he is now believed to be held somewhere in Ho Chi Minh City, they said.
Nguyen's family has contacted the American embassy in Vietnam, but has not yet received a response, sources said. They are now in contact with U.S. congressional offices to exert pressure on officials in Vietnam to release him.