Nineteen members of Congress asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to use “all diplomatic means” to secure the 32-year-old’s release.
US-Vietnam relations have warmed considerably in recent years, with Barack Obama visiting in 2016 and Donald Trump spending time in Hanoi last November but Nguyen might not receive special treatment.
His only public appearance since his arrest was a confession aired on national television on June 18.
“As elected representative of Mr Nguyen’s family or the greater Vietnamese-American community, we remain very concerned about the seriousness of the pending charges and the sentences he faces,” wrote the politicians. “Consistent with the mission of your department, there is no doubt the favourable resolution to this matter will advance the national interest of the United States and its people.”
Nguyen was protesting against legislation that would allow China to sign long-term land leases. The Yale graduate was filmed being dragged into custody with blood coming from a head wound (pictured).
Pompeo visited Vietnam this month and asked for a “speedy resolution to his case”.
Despite encouraging words from Congress and Pompeo, observers say little has been done in the US to secure Nguyen’s release.
Zachary Abuza, an Asean specialist at the National War College in Washington, said: “The simple answer is that the administration has very little interest in human rights. It is a non-priority for them.”
Vi Tran, a lawyer based in Taiwan who focuses on human rights in Vietnam, said improved ties between Washington and Hanoi might have an impact on the trial. But Tran also believed the Vietnamese authorities could make an example out of Nguyen. “It seems to me that they are trying to be clear with Will and any other Vietnamese-American that they would sentence dissidents harshly regardless of their nationality,” she told the Guardian.
A criminal conviction could put Nguyen in jail for two to seven years as prosecutors are thought to be planning to charge Nguyen with “inciting others to be violent and disruptive”.
Some Vietnamese protesters who were also arrested at the same time as Nguyen have reportedly already been released.
But last week, six Vietnamese nationals received sentences of 18 months to two years for disturbing the public order for joining the protest in Binh Thaun province on the south-central coast.
Nguyen’s legal representatives are from Vietnam since the country does not allow foreign legal representation in the country.
William Nguyen being arrested in Vietnam. Picture credit: YouTube