The family of a U.S. graduate student jailed in Vietnam more than a week ago contacted the White House to seek its help securing his release. The student, 32-year-old Will Nguyen of Los Angeles, was arrested June 10 in Ho Chi Minh City during a mass demonstration against a proposal that would create “special economic zones” to encourage more Chinese investment in Vietnam.
Nguyen was vacationing in Vietnam and joined the demonstration, whose organizers were rallying against what they perceive is growing Chinese influence over Vietnamese economic and political life. Nguyen joined the demonstration and posted a series of tweets from the scene up until his arrest.
”I can’t stress how enormous of an achievement this is for the #Vietnamese people,” he wrote on June 10. ”The communist government is allowing people to assemble peacefully and the people are exercising their civic duty to protest injustice.”
Vietnamese officials said that police arrested Nguyen for “disturbing the public order.” He had reportedly asked police officers to move their vehicles that were blocking demonstrators’ path, and when the officers refused, he stood on a police vehicle and urged fellow protesters to defy police and pass through them.
According to a government statement, he will stay in a prison cell for the duration of an ongoing government inquiry into the matter and will have no rights to legal representation.
A video shows Nguyen with blood on his face while police drag him along the pavement. He reportedly suffered a head injury, cuts, and bruises while the officers took him into custody.
A U.S. consulate in Ho Chi Minh City visited Nguyen and reported that he was recovering from his injuries and was “in good spirits,” according to Nugyen’s sister, Victoria. But family members do not know how long the government will hold him.