WASHINGTON - Vietnam’s most wanted human rights and environmental activist, Bach Hong Quyen, is safe and considering taking up residence outside his homeland, he told VOA's Vietnamese service after weeks on the run from authorities who issued a warrant for him in May.
“I feel quite safe,” Quyen said earlier this week, speaking to VOA from an undisclosed location. “I don’t think the Vietnamese police can find me."
Quyen had been evading police before they announced they would attempt to serve a rare "wanted" warrant on the influential blogger’s home in Ha Tinh province on May 11. At the time, Bui Huong Giang, Quyen's wife, told VOA that police were “tracking" her husband throughout Vietnam, although she said she did not know his whereabouts.
He told VOA that his family remains “under surveillance and harassed. My wife and children were stopped and searched on the way to school by plainclothes police officers who said they were from Hanoi.”
VOA contacted police in Vietnam about the latest developments in the case but received no reply. Human rights blogger Le Anh Hung, who is a VOA Vietnamese service contributor, said that he thought the authorities choreographed the process of serving the warrant at Quyen’s home to allow him time to leave the country.
Authorities launched a nationwide manhunt for the 28-year-old activist, who was accused of "disturbing public order" because he helped organize an April 3 environmental protest over the government's response to an April 6, 2016 toxic spill from Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation. Police had harassed organizers of the first anniversary protest, including Quyen, the day before.
The toxic discharge continues to be a sensitive topic, one that Vietnam's government tries to play down. Residents of Ha Tinh and three other central coast provinces are still recovering from a fish kill caused by the discharge from Formosa Ha Tinh Steel. The spill has come to be seen as the event which took the environmental movement into the mainstream. The Taiwan-owned company accepted full responsibility for the fish kill and pledged to pay $500 million in damages for dumping wastewater laden with phenol, cyanide and iron hydroxide into the sea.
“Several organizations and foreign embassies are offering me help to avoid arrest,”Quyen told VOA.
Quyen says he is now deciding “whether or not to go to another country. I might decide to stay free in another country and continue to help the people in Vietnam,” he said.
Quyen believes that in issuing the warrant for him, the Vietnamese government was “aiming at stopping the voices of the local people and local fishermen who lost out in the Formosa incident” The warrant has, however, “strengthened the resolve of activists,” he said.
This report originated on VOA Vietnamese