Home News Hmong activist in Thailand threatened for refusing to return to Vietnam

Hmong activist in Thailand threatened for refusing to return to Vietnam

An ethnic Hmong preacher and human rights activist released on bail from Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Center said a Vietnamese official threatened him when he refused to return to Vietnam, where he would likely face persecution.

Lu A Da, who was arrested and detained at the center in December on the charge of illegally entering and residing in Thailand, told Radio Free Asia on Tuesday that an official named Hai from the Vietnamese Embassy visited him at the facility on Dec. 28, where he issued the threat. 

The case is an example of Vietnamese authorities harassing ethnic Hmong – many of whom are Christians – for their beliefs. In Vietnam, the minority group often faces social exclusion, discrimination, and even attacks. 

When the two of them met, Hai said that he would complete documents to send Lu home prior to the Lunar New Year, Lu said. But when Lu did not agree to return to Vietnam, Hai threatened to harm his relatives.

“He learned that I am an activist, so he said to me, ‘You are in Thailand, so you can do whatever you like, but you should think about your relatives in Vietnam.’” Lu said. “Hai used my relatives in Vietnam as a threat for me to not [engage in] activism.”

Lu said he did not know Hai’s position at the embassy, but that Hai and another official named Linh sometimes went to the Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok to work with Vietnamese detainees.

The Vietnamese Embassy in Bangkok did not respond to RFA’s email request for comment.

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Arrested after denunciation 

Lu, a former missionary and preacher at the Northern Evangelical Church of Vietnam and head of the Hmong Human Rights Coalition, fled Vietnam with his family in 2020 to escape ethnic and religious persecution and entered Thailand illegally to seek official refugee status.

The latter group collects evidence of the Vietnamese government’s discrimination of the Hmong on issues such as language, religion, land, and identification. It provides support to Hmong people so they can learn Vietnamese law through lessons given by Boat People SOS, a U.S.-based organization.

Thai police arrested Lù at his rental home in Bangkok on Dec. 7. His arrest occurred two weeks after he publicly denounced the Vietnamese government’s “systematic suppression of Hmong communities in Vietnam.”

Lu’s lawyer paid 6,000 Thai baht (US$170) to bail him out of the detention facility on Feb. 2, and the Boat People SOS provided Lu with 50,000 baht (US$1,400) in support.

The U.N. High Commission for Refugees, or UNHCR, in Thailand, previously rejected Lu’s application for refugee status but granted it to him while he was in the immigration detention facility.

Lu told RFA that because of his activism in Thailand, Vietnamese authorities have made life difficult for his brother who lives in Vietnam’s Lai Chau province.

His brother, chief of San Phang Thap commune in a village in Tam Duong district, had an opportunity to be promoted to village officer, but after Lu and his family fled to Thailand, local residents did not trust his brother, and he had to move to Quang Ninh to make a living, Lu said.

Lu said he suspects that the Thai police who arrested him may be working with officials at the Vietnamese Embassy.

Prior to his arrest, Lu appeared in a video presented during a Boat People SOS session about Hanoi’s repression of ethnic minority communities. 

In the clip, Lu said Vietnamese authorities do not issue identification papers, birth certificates, or marriage certificates to many Hmong. They also prevent them from accessing education, official employment, and health care programs that the ethnic Kinh majority enjoys, he said.

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