A Vietnamese environmental activist was sent back to Vietnam by the United States this week, ending his quest for political asylum, a U.S. lawmaker said in a press statement on Tuesday.
Ha Van Thanh, born in 1982, was deported on Oct. 21, after his plea for asylum was rejected by U.S. authorities, California congressman Alan Lowenthal said, adding that Thanh is now “under direct and immediate threat from the government of Vietnam that he fled and where we have returned him.”
“The case of Mr. Thanh is one that deserved the most serious consideration by our government, not a casual glance. Cases such as his are exactly why we have an asylum process,” Lowenthal said.
Thanh fled Vietnam on May 12, 2018, fearing imprisonment for his role in a march with hundreds of victims of an April 2016 toxic waste spill by a Taiwan-owned firm that destroyed livelihoods across Vietnam’s central coast and led to widespread protests and arrests in affected provinces.
After his escape, he traveled to Laos and Thailand, Thanh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service in a phone interview earlier this year from a U.S. immigration detention center in New Mexico.
“Then, in Thailand, I bought a ticket to Cuba, and in Cuba I bought a plane ticket to Panama and asked for asylum there,” Thanh said.
“As I was waiting for asylum, I met some Cuban migrants on their way to Mexico. I asked if I could accompany them, and when we arrived in Mexico they let me stay there for about 20 days,” he said.
Thanh said he then walked to the U.S. border and met with police to request asylum.
'They didn't believe me'
While in detention, Thanh went through immigration questioning and went to court three times, he said, adding that after his third hearing he was denied refugee status and was scheduled to be deported.
“The third time I was in court, the court told me that I was not eligible for asylum because they didn’t believe me, and they didn’t believe what I said I had done in Vietnam,” Thanh said.
Evidence submitted to authorities to support Thanh’s case included letters from a Catholic priest who had joined in the protests, and documents from Vietnamese police summoning Thanh to help identify other protesters, Thanh’s lawyer Khanh Pham told RFA in an earlier report.
Evidence was also presented showing Thanh had been beaten by police in Vietnam, Pham said.
On Oct. 21, Thanh made a call to a friend and supporter, Le Thanh Tung, saying that he had begun a hunger strike to protest his continued detention, Tung told RFA’s Vietnamese Service in an interview.
Attempts to reach Thanh’s wife in Vietnam for comment on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Channhu Hoang. Written in English by Richard Finney.