NEW YORK—The arrest and detention of William Nguyen, a U.S. citizen of Vietnamese descent, is a direct infringement on his right to peacefully assemble, said PEN America in a statement today.

Nguyen, a graduate student at the Lee Kuan Yew School of the National University of Singapore, was taking part in and documenting a protest in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10 when he was “beaten over the head and dragged into the back of a police truck,” according to a statement given by his family. He is being held for investigation on the charge of infringing Article 381 of the Penal Code relating to “disturbing public order.” Nguyen was attending a protest against proposed special economic zones (SEZs) that would allow foreigners to lease land for 99 years. The proposed SEZs have ignited fear in Vietnamese citizens, as such laws could allow for Chinese encroachment on Vietnamese land, and a number of demonstrations against the proposal have taken place across major cities in Vietnam. US embassy officials were finally permitted to meet with Nguyen nearly a week after his arrest, according to news reports.

“Vietnam continues to demonstrate its unwillingness to respect even the most basic human rights of free expression and assembly,” said Karin Karlekar, PEN America Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs. “We urge Vietnamese authorities to allow individuals to protest freely against policies that they disagree with, and to release individuals—including William Nguyen—who have been detained for expressing and documenting such disagreement. We also request that he be given adequate medical care to treat his injuries while in custody.”

Under Communist rule since the 1970s, Vietnam severely restricts both free expression and association, and has imprisoned scores of bloggers in recent years for such vaguely-defined crimes as “propaganda against the state.” PEN America has decried the recent convictions of bloggers including Phan Kim Khánh, “Mother Mushroom,” and Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy. In a March 2017 interview with PEN America, journalist Trinh Huu Long discussed the dangers faced by independent bloggers in Vietnam, and the conviction of prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh, also known as Anh Ba Sam.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: