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Thailand : don’t return Montagnard activist to Vietnam

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The Thai government should immediately release Y Quynh Bdap, a Montagnard religious freedom activist and refugee, and ensure that he is not sent back to Vietnam, Human Rights Watch said today. If returned, he faces a real risk of an unfair trial and ill-treatment by Vietnamese authorities.

On June 11, 2024, Thai Immigration police in Bangkok arrested Y Quynh Bdap, 32, the co-founder of Montagnards Stand for Justice, on immigration charges. He is currently detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison pending an extradition trial. The Vietnamese government requested Thai authorities extradite Y Quynh Bdap, who has been living in Thailand since 2018 and had refugee status determined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Vietnamese authorities are seeking Y Quynh Bdap on terrorism charges related to deadly riots in Dak Lak province in Vietnam’s central highland region in June 2023, for which he was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison in January. Human Rights Watch has no information on Y Quynh Bdap’s possible involvement in the riots, but is gravely concerned about his safety and his receiving a fair trial in Vietnam.

“Returning the Vietnamese activist Y Quynh Bdap to Vietnam would place him in grave danger,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Thai authorities should recognize Y Quynh Bdap’s refugee status, release him, and ensure he’s not put in harm’s way.”

Montagnards Stand for Justice has sought to protect and promote the rights to freedom of religion and other rights of Montagnards in Vietnam’s central highlands. The Vietnamese government has long persecuted Christian Montagnards belonging to independent house churches, supporters of nonviolent demands for independence or autonomy, and people objecting to the transfer of land and forests traditionally used by highlanders to Vietnamese businesses and settlers.

On June 12, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, expressed concerns about Y Quynh Bdap’s arrest and said that extraditing him to Vietnam would mean that Thailand was “not fit to be elected” to the UN Human Rights Council later this year.

Human Rights Watch’s recent report, “‘We Thought We Were Safe’: Repression and Refoulement of Refugees in Thailand,” documents a pattern of transnational repression in which Thai authorities helped neighboring governments take unlawful actions against refugees and dissidents seeking shelter in Thailand. In exchange, Thai authorities were able to target critics of the Thai government living in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia as part of a “swap mart” of refugees and dissidents. In May 2019, three Thai dissidents—Chucheep Chivasut, Siam Theerawut, and Kritsana Thapthai—were forcibly disappeared after Vietnamese authorities arrested them.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin should break with the abusive practice of previous Thai governments and ensure that Y Quynh Bdap is not returned to Vietnam in violation of international and Thai law, Human Rights Watch said.

Thailand is obligated to respect the international law principle of nonrefoulement, which prohibits countries from returning anyone to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture, or other serious ill-treatment, or a threat to life. This principle is explicitly codified in the United Nations Convention against Torture, to which Thailand is a party, and customary international law.

In addition, Thailand’s Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearances, which came into effect in February 2023, states that “no government organizations or public officials shall expel, deport, or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that the person would be in danger of torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, or enforced disappearance.”

“The Thai government shouldn’t do Hanoi’s bidding by forcibly returning Y Quynh Bdap to Vietnam,” Pearson said. “Thailand needs to meet its obligations to protect refugees and demonstrate it deserves a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council.”

Human Rights Watch – June 13, 2024

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