The last time William Nguyen was seen in public was on June 10, standing in the bed of a pickup truck in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, a wound on his left temple bleeding through his buzz cut. Around him was the chaos of a protest being broken up by police.
Footage of the protest posted on YouTube shows Nguyen, 32, being dragged on the street just moments before by a group of plain-clothed men.
Nguyen’s family was arrested that day and has remained incommunicado since. With the exception of U.S. embassy officials in Vietnam — who were finally able to see Nguyen on Friday — no one has seen the Houston native and Yale graduate.
A friend of Nguyen’s told ThinkProgress that there was “some suspicious activity after they confiscated his phone. It kept showing [his status] as ‘active’” even after his phone had been taken away.
Calls to his phone, though, were declined.
Interrogators frequently take over a detainee’s phone and social media accounts in search of communications they can use in a potential case.
He was participating in a protest to oppose the passage of a new cybersecurity law, as well as a proposed law allowing foreign businesses to unconditionally lease land for up to 99 years as part of forming a special “economic zone,” which some feel will favor Chinese investors.
Over 100 others have also been reportedly arrested at similar protests this month.
Nguyen, who is of Vietnamese descent, was considering moving to Vietnam after graduating with a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.
The day after his arrest, a local friend paid a fine demanded by the police, who said Nguyen would be released that day, but that did not happen. In fact, the following day on June 12, according to his friends, police went to the apartment where Nguyen was staying and confiscated his laptop, passport, credit cards, and other personal effects.
He has been accused in local media of violating Article 318 of the Vietnam Legal Code (“disturbing the public order”) which, in Vietnam, gives the state three months to investigate the allegations, during which time Nguyen can continue to be detained.
Although he has not been formally charged, accounts of his arrest have already been reported in Vietnamese state media.
The Vietnamese authorities have been quiet about Nguyen’s case, although according to the Guardian newspaper, a spokesperson for the ministry of foreign affairs said that force had not been used against him.
According to a statement released by his family and friends, who have been organizing the campaign to secure his release (along with a Facebook page and Twitter handle) the U.S. State Department has “prioritized his case.”
His sister, Victoria Nguyen, who lives in Chicago, also released a statement calling for her brother’s release, thanking people for their “overwhelming support” in helping to get his story out.
“But that’s not enough. This has escalated out of control, and we demand justice. We all want him home. And simply just that,” read the statement.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the city of Victoria Nguyen’s residence.