‘Activist at risk if sent home’


Human rights groups urged Thailand not to extradite a Vietnamese activist detained in Bangkok, saying he could be at risk if handed back to Vietnam.

Y Quynh Bdap, who had United Nations refugee status in Thailand, was picked up by local police on Tuesday, the day after he had met with Canadian Embassy officials as he pursued asylum there, according to the Peace Rights Foundation, a Thai organisation that had been in contact with him.

The co-founder of the Montagnards Stand for Justice group was convicted in absentia in Vietnam in January on allegations that he was involved in organising anti-government riots in Vietnam’s central highland province of Dak Lak last June.

Vietnamese authorities had been making inquiries in Thailand about him with Thailand’s assistance, which sent him into hiding six months ago, Bdap said before his arrest in a video statement.

In the June 7 video provided to The Associated Press by Kannavee Suebsang, a Thai opposition lawmaker who is active in human rights issues, Bdap said he had “absolutely nothing to do with that violent incident”.

“I am a human rights activist fighting for religious freedom and advocating for people’s rights,” said the 32-year-old Bdap, who fled to Thailand in 2018.

“My activities are peaceful, consisting only of collecting and writing reports on human rights violations in Vietnam.”

Bdap is now being held in a Bangkok prison awaiting an extradition hearing, which could take about a week, according to Human Rights Watch.

UNHCR, the UN agency for refugees, said it couldn’t comment on individual cases, but that it “actively engages” with Thailand’s government to ensure fundamental international obligations are honoured, including not forcibly returning refugees to a country where they are likely to be subject to persecution.

“States have the primary responsibility to provide protection and safety to persons on their territory, including refugees and asylum-seekers and people whose lives could be at risk if they were returned,” spokesperson Liana Bianchi said.

Vietnam has long been criticised for its treatment of the country’s Montagnard minority, a term loosely used to refer to many predominantly Christian ethnic groups that live in the central highlands and neighbouring Cambodia.

Human Rights Watch has said many have been driven to seek asylum in Cambodia and Thailand as Vietnamese authorities have subjected their communities to intimidation, arbitrary arrests and mistreatment in custody.

“Y Quynh Bdap would be at real risk if returned to Vietnam,” said Bryony Lau, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

“Thai authorities should immediately release this prominent religious freedom advocate and refugee. Returning him to Vietnam would be a violation of Thailand’s obligations under Thai and international law.”

The organisation has been critical of Thailand for its record of sending home dissidents from Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and China to uncertain fates, in what they said in a recent report, was a quid pro quo form of transnational repression in which those countries sent home dissidents wanted by Thailand.

The country has ratified the International Convention for Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which took effect on Thursday, but it is unclear whether Bdap’s case will fall under its purview.

“Cooperation between states in locating persecuted opposition groups is a concerning situation for human rights,” Kannavee said.

He cited examples of Thai activists turning up dead in Laos and Cambodian opposition groups being rounded up in Thailand.

“This is happening all over,” Kannaveee said.

“Transnational repression really does happen and the exchanges of these dissidents happen regularly, whether in secret or in full view of the public.”

Bdap was convicted in January on terrorism charges and sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison for his alleged involvement in the Dak Lak riots, at a time when he was in Thailand.

Overall, about 100 people were tried for alleged involvement in the violent riots at two district government offices, in which nine people were killed, including four police officers and two government officials. Fifty-three were convicted on charges of “terrorism against the people’s government”, state-run Vietnam News reported.

Days after the verdicts, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Pham Thu Hang rejected criticism that Vietnam had used the trial as an opportunity to crack down on ethnic minorities, saying the government needed to “strictly deal with terrorism according to international law”.

“All ethnicities living in a territory of Vietnam are equal,” she said. — AP

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