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UN rapporteurs concerned that Chinese activist arrested in Vietnam will be sent back

Hanoi has not responded to inquiries about about Dong Guangping’s whereabouts.

The Vietnamese government has failed to respond to a request by three U.N. special rapporteurs as to the whereabouts of a Chinese human rights defender arrested by Vietnamese police. They are concerned that Dong Guangping will face persecution if sent back to China.

Vietnamese police in Hanoi arrested Dong, 65, in August 2022, though the official reason for his detention is unknown. At the time, Dong was seeking political asylum status in a third country.

Dong, a former police officer from Henan province, was criminally prosecuted in China three times for his work in support of human rights and democracy, including advocacy for activities commemorating victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Chinese authorities freed Dong in August 2019, and he sought refuge in Vietnam in January 2020. Vietnamese authorities arrested him while he was waiting to be resettled in Canada, where his family resides.  

The Office of the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights, or OHCHR, said that as of Feb. 12, Hanoi had not responded to the December 2022 request by Aua Baldé, chair-rapporteur of the working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

“The information at hand indicate that Mr. Dong may be facing reprisals for his legitimate work in the defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms in China, and that he has been forcibly disappeared in Vietnam for the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and of assembly in his country of origin,” the rapporteurs said in a letter to the Vietnamese government dated Dec. 15, 2022.

Vietnam, which has a dubious human rights record, has faced allegations of forced returns of activists, human rights defenders and others facing substantial risk of persecution in their countries of origin. In recent years, it has arrested and deported three Chinese activists who had fled to the Southeast Asian country to avoid persecution at home, according to Spain-based Safeguard Defenders. 

Handcuffed and blindfolded

In the letter, the rapporteurs said they were informed about the arbitrary arrest of Dong, who had last been seen handcuffed and blindfolded and escorted by about a dozen police officers and placed in a police car. He was arrested outside his apartment in Hanoi, where he had hiding for 31 months while waiting for resettlement.

“While we do not wish to prejudge the accuracy of these allegations, we are seriously concerned about what appears to be the arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and risk of refoulement of Chinese asylum seeker and former political prisoner Mr. Dong Guangping,” they wrote. 

“We are also alarmed at the imminent risk of persecution facing Mr. Dong should Vietnamese authorities decide to forcibly return him to China and at the harmful impact that his current situation might have on his physical and psychological integrity,” they said.

By detaining Dong and refusing to provide information about him, the Vietnamese government has violated international treaties to which Vietnam is a state party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and, the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the rapporteurs said.

International human rights organizations said Hanoi must take responsibility for protecting Dong as well as providing information about his current situation. 

“It is outrageous and unacceptable that they are shirking that responsibility despite repeated requests from the U.N., and the U.S. and Canadian governments for answers.” Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy Asia director, told Radio Free Asia by email. 

Defying the international community

Robertson said his organization had reliable information that Dong had been held by the Vietnam authorities before he disappeared. 

“Vietnam is willfully defying the international community and violating their human rights commitments by hiding the truth in this matter,” he said. “This case is yet another reason why it is so inappropriate for Vietnam to have a seat at the UN Human Rights Council.” 

Vietnam began serving its three-year term on the council on Jan. 1, despite its own serious breaches of human rights principles.

Gwen Lee, China campaigner for Amnesty International, agreed that Hanoi must provide Dong’s whereabouts and not hand him over to China.

“Under the principle of non-refoulement of international law, the government of Vietnam should halt all plans to deport him as there is a high possibility that he will face torture and ill-treatment if he returns to China,” she said.

The non-refoulement principle states that no one should be returned to a country where they would face persecution, violence or death. 

Amnesty International had recorded situations in which many human rights defenders were tortured and mistreated, especially when detained incommunicado under “residential surveillance in a designated location,” she said, referring to a form of detention used by Chinese authorities against people accused of endangering state security. Some also were subjected to heavy surveillance after they were released from prison, she added.

RFA could not reach Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment on the matter. The ministry also did not respond to an email request for comment. 

‘We don’t know where he is’

Meanwhile, Dong’s family and supporters, who have had no news about him since his arrest, are concerned that Vietnamese authorities may have unlawfully handed him over to the Chinese and that he may already be imprisoned and held incommunicado, according to a statement issued on Feb. 14 by the Toronto Association for Democracy in China.

“We don’t even know where he is,” Katherine Dong, the activist’s daughter, a Toronto university student, told the organization. “They won’t answer my questions. They won’t answer questions posed by the prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs of Canada.  Now they refuse to answer the United Nations.”

“This is unacceptable and an affront to international law,” she said. “Vietnamese officials must answer our simple question: Where is Dong Guangping?”

 Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.


This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By RFA Vietnamese.


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