LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A U.S. citizen detained since last month in Vietnam should be allowed to return home to California, a U.S. Congresswoman and the man’s family said on Thursday.
The family had learned from U.S. officials that Michael Phuong Minh Nguyen, 54, was being held in Ho Chi Minh City, his brother-in-law, Mark Roberts, told a news conference in Orange County, California.
Nguyen is under investigation for suspected activity against the Vietnamese government, but has not formally been charged with any crime, Roberts said.
Nguyen, who was born in Vietnam and has lived in the United States since he was a child, was not known to be politically active and spends his time in California raising four daughters and running a printing business, his family said.
His fate threatens to become a diplomatic sore point between the United States and Vietnam.
Communist-ruled Vietnam tolerates little criticism and in recent months has been carrying out a crackdown on dissent and stepping up arrests of activists.
Congresswoman Mimi Walters, a Republican who represents Orange County, where Nguyen lives, told reporters she would meet with the Vietnamese ambassador in Washington on Friday.
“The Vietnamese government needs to know that there will be consequences if they don’t treat American citizens with respect,” Walters said. “I will do everything in my power to make sure we bring Mr Nguyen home.”
A representative for the Vietnamese embassy did not immediately return calls.
Nguyen’s case has stirred outrage in Orange County, which is home to a large population of Vietnamese-Americans who fled as refugees during or soon after the U.S. war in Vietnam ended in 1975.
Orange County is home to the Provisional National Government of Vietnam, an exile group opposed to the government in Hanoi.
Nguyen was not involved with any organizations other than his Catholic church, his sister-in-law, Christine Nguyen, 40, told Reuters in a phone interview.
Michael Nguyen flew to Vietnam on June 27 to visit friends while his wife, Helen, stayed in California with the couple’s children, Roberts said. Helen, who works as a nurse, was last in contact with her husband on July 5.
This week, after frantic appeals for information, Nguyen’s family learned from U.S. officials that he had been detained, Roberts said, adding that they had been told that U.S. officials had met with Nguyen.
When asked about Nguyen at a news conference on Thursday in Hanoi, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry said her office would “ask the relevant authorities.”
After another Vietnamese-American was detained in the Southeast Asian country during nationwide protests in June, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked for a speedy resolution to the case. The American was later ordered deported.
Pompeo is scheduled to meet on Friday in Singapore with foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Vietnam.
Additional reporting by James Pearson and Mai Nguyen in Hanoi; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Rosalba O'Brien