An American student arrested in Vietnam during an anti-China protest earlier this month apologized on state television for breaking the law and promised not to participate in further “anti-state activities,” Agence France-Presse reports.
Will Nguyen, a 32-year-old graduate student in Singapore, has been detained since June 10 when plain-clothed officers beat and dragged him through the streets amid an anti-China protest in Ho Chi Minh City.
“I regret that I caused trouble for people heading to the airport,” Nguyen said in Vietnamese in the televised statement, AFP reports. “I blocked traffic and caused trouble to my family and friends… I will not join any anti-state activities anymore.”
Vietnamese authorities have been known to parade accused criminals in public confessions, sometimes by coercion or in exchange for more lenient sentences.
Nguyen, who is from Houston, was traveling through Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, when protests erupted over government plans to allow foreign investors to lease land long-term inside Vietnam’s special economic zones.
Wary of Chinese encroachment, thousands of people in cities across Vietnam have reportedly flooded the streets in recent weeks to protest the plans. According to the AFP, the proposal makes no specific mention of China.
Nguyen, who is of Vietnamese descent, speaks the language fluently and travels to the country often. He was stopping in Vietnam before his graduation from a masters program at the University of Singapore this summer. Nguyen was live-tweeting the event up until his arrest.
I can’t stress how enormous of an achievement this is for the #Vietnamese people. The communist government is allowing people to assemble peacefully and the people are exercising their civic duty to protest injustice. #Vietnam #Phandoidackhu
— Will Nguyen (阮英惟） (@will_nguyen_) June 10, 2018
Video footage from the protests shows Nguyen with a bloodied face being dragged through the street by a group holding his legs and arm, and then put in the back of a police pick up truck.
Nguyen was taken to a police station and charged with “causing a scene and destroying public property.”
“He went because he was talking about how it was going to be a very historic moment, not because of the particularly political agenda, just because it was Vietnamese people gathering in public taking advantage of their rights of free assembly,” said Mary-Alice Daniel, a friend of Nguyen’s from Yale University. “He was there as a observer in terms of supporting the Vietnamese people.”
More than 100 other protesters were arrested in Binh Thuan Province, outside Ho Chi Minh City, after storming a government building, the New York Times reports.
Nguyen’s family and friends set up a Twitter account to raise awareness of Nguyen’s detainment, and has called on the Trump Administration to intervene.
Forceful escalation from our fierce, determined Congressional team @RepLouCorrea @RepJimmyGomez @RepLowenthal. But one disturbing detail we must remember is that NO charges have been filed against Will yet! Held unjustly. @realDonaldTrump: Will has no voice–will you help him? pic.twitter.com/9xQFjjhWEI
— Free Will Nguyen (@FreeWillNguyen1) June 20, 2018
Nguyen was granted consular access on June 15, five days after his arrest, appearing in good health and stating that he did not require medical treatment.
A State Department official said in a statement that the U.S. was deeply concerned by videos appearing to show injuries to Nguyen upon his arrest, and that those concerns have been expressed to Vietnamese authorities.
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