Family fears American citizen from Orange is imprisoned in Vietnam
Helen Nguyen went to pick up her husband at Los Angeles International Airport on July 16, the day he was scheduled to end a trip to his birth country, Vietnam, but he wasn’t there.
Now, Helen Nguyen, of Orange, as well as other relatives and friends, fear that Michael Phong Nguyen is being detained and possibly imprisoned by the Vietnamese government.
Friends in Vietnam recently posted on social media that the American citizen had been arrested, but details about where and why weren’t clear. The last Helen Nguyen heard from Michael Phong Nguyen was July 6.
Over the past two weeks the family has reached out to U.S. legislators and the Vietnamese government, as well as English language and Vietnamese language media, and others, to raise awareness about Michael Phong Nguyen’s disappearance.
“I fear for his safety,” Helen Nguyen said Tuesday.
“I really want my husband back. And the children want their dad back.”
Michael Phong Nguyen, 54, arrived in the U.S. in 1975, the year that communists took over the divided nation. He owns a printing company in Garden Grove and travels to Vietnam once or twice a year to visit family and friends, said his brother-in-law, Mark Roberts.
Relatives said they are unaware of Michael Phong Nguyen being involved in any anti-Vietnamese political activities or protests, which are not welcomed in Vietnam and could potentially lead to arrests.
Earlier this summer, a U.S. citizen from Houston was publicly beaten while traveling in Vietnam and imprisoned after participating in a protest during his vacation. Will Nguyen was freed July 20 after U.S. officials intervened. Images of Will Nguyen’s ordeal have scared Michael Phong Nguyen’s family, who describe the local man as a doting father to four girls, ages 8 to 15, and an active member of the Catholic Church.
The U.S. Consulate is seeking information about Michael Phong Nguyen but, according to Roberts, the agency isn’t able to provide much for the family.
In recent days, the family has reached out to several legislators, including Congresswoman Mimi Walters, who represents the 45th District. A spokesman for Walters said her office is working to “provide answers to bring Mr. Nguyen home safely.”
Meanwhile, the family has gone online, offering a petition demanding that the Vietnamese government release Nguyen. It went up over the weekend at change.org and by late Tuesday afternoon it had more than 4,700 signatures.
On Tuesday, Helen Nguyen, a nurse who works at UCI Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente hospital showed up for a Vietnamese-language TV interview to state her plea directly to the government of Vietnam.
“If you have my husband, let him come home,” she said. “Or at least let us know if he is safe.”
Staff writer Lilly Nguyen contributed to this report.