Rights groups urge Thailand not to extradite Vietnamese activist, saying he would be in danger if sent home

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BANGKOK (AP) — Human rights groups urged Thailand Thursday not to extradite a Vietnamese activist detained in Bangkok. They say he could be in danger if he is returned to Vietnam.

Y Quynh Bdap, who had United Nations refugee status in Thailand, was detained by local police on Tuesday, the day after he met with Canadian embassy officials while seeking asylum there, according to the Peace Rights Foundation, a Thai organization that had contact with him.

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

Vietnamese authorities had made inquiries about him in Thailand, with Thailand’s help, forcing him into hiding six months ago, Bdap said in a video statement before his arrest.

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

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

“My activities are peaceful and consist solely of collecting and writing reports on human rights violations in Vietnam.”

Thai immigration authorities told the AP they would investigate the matter, but never provided any information or comment afterward.

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

UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, said it could not comment on individual cases but was “actively working” with the Thai government to ensure basic international obligations are met, including not forcibly returning refugees to a country where they will likely be returned. are subject to prosecution.

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

Calls to the Vietnamese embassy in Thailand went unanswered.

Vietnam has long been criticized by rights groups and others for its treatment of the country’s Montagnard minority, a term loosely used to refer to many predominantly Christian ethnic groups living in the Central Highlands and neighboring Cambodia.

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

“Y Quynh Bdap would face real risk if he returns to Vietnam,” said Bryony Lau, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

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

The organization has been critical of Thailand for its record of sending home dissidents from Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and China to an uncertain fate. a quid pro quo form of transnational repressionin which those countries sent home dissidents wanted by Thailand.

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

“State cooperation in locating persecuted opposition groups is a human rights concern,” Kannavee said.

He mentioned examples of this Thai activists are found dead in Laos and Cambodian opposition groups arrested in Thailand.

“This is happening everywhere,” Kannaveee said.

“Transnational repression is real and these dissidents’ exchanges occur regularly, both in secret and 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 while in Thailand.

In total, around 100 people were tried for alleged involvement in the violent riots in two district government offices, which left nine people dead, including four police officers and two government officials. Fifty-three were convicted on charges of “terrorism against the people’s government,” state-owned Vietnam News reported.

Days after the statements, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Pham Thu Hang rejected criticism that Vietnam had used the trial as an opportunity to crack down on ethnic minorities, saying the government should “strictly tackle terrorism according to international law,” Vietnam News reported. .

“All ethnicities living in a territory of Vietnam are equal,” he said.

Unlike Uighur refugees detained indefinitely by Thai authoritiesBdap is facing a more credible extradition threat since his criminal conviction in his home country, according to the Peace Rights Foundation.

In the video message that Bdap recorded before he was arrested, he pleaded for “help from the United Nations, NGOs and governments of democratic countries.”

“Please protect me,” he said.

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