The fate of an American arrested almost a month ago during a rare protest in Vietnam is likely to be raised by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Hanoi.
Houston native William Nguyen was detained June 10 during a Ho Chi Minh City protest against proposed special economic zones that Vietnamese fear will lead to Chinese encroachment and cybersecurity legislation they believe will curb online freedoms. In a police video broadcast on state television last month, Nguyen acknowledged that he violated Vietnamese law and expressed “regret” for disrupting traffic and promised not to participate in activities against the government. The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t respond to a request for comment.
North Korea’s nuclear weapons, China’s military muscle-flexing in the region and closer US-Vietnam relations were expected to be the main discussions between Pompeo and Vietnamese leaders including Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc. But political pressure from US lawmakers calling for his release could prompt Pompeo to raise the detainment of Nguyen.
“It may not be the No. 1 item and you never know how forcefully it will be raised, but Pompeo has to raise it,” said Carlyle Thayer, an emeritus professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra. “The Vietnamese-American community have friends in Congress. And the State Department seems to be raising these types of issues higher than it did under Rex Tillerson.”
Nguyen was accused of urging demonstrators to climb over roadblocks while standing on a police vehicle on June 10, a day after arriving in Vietnam as a tourist. He was charged with causing public disorder.
US consular officers have met with Nguyen, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.