Vietnam Cracks Down on Dissenters

Vietnamese in the central coastal province of Ha Tinh protest at a steel factory run by Formosa Plastics demanding the Taiwanese firm pay compensation a massive toxic spill, Oct 2, 2016. (Photo courtesy of an RFA listener)

The Vietnamese government is escalating a nationwide crackdown on human rights activists and people critical of the government’s handling of the chemical spill that devastated the country’s central coast, according to Amnesty International and other reports.

On Nov. 6, four people were arrested who are connected to a new civil society organization “The Alliance of Self-Determined People.”

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All three have been charged with “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” under Article 79 of the penal code, according to a report in Vietnam Right Now.

The draconian law is often used against dissenters and usually comes with a lengthy prison sentence of between 12 years and life, but people sentenced under the law can face the death penalty.

Activist Luu Van Vinh and his friend, Nguyen Van Duc Do, were arrested after police burst into Luu Van Vinh’s home in Ho Chi Minh City, according to witnesses.

“They held Vinh Luu down, beat him and arrested him right in front of us,” Luu Van Vinh’s wife Le Thi Thap told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

“The police dragged him out without presenting any order, and they took away all the phones that were sitting on the table,” she said. “They took his friend too.”

Le Thi Thap told RFA that after beating the men, the police obtained arrest and search warrants.

“Vinh helped injustice victims and was involved in Formosa issue,” she said. “He is very enthusiastic about helping people and asking others to join in helping people.”

In a news release, Amnesty International said two other people with ties to Luu Van Vinh were also arrested. Du Phi Truong and Tuan Doan were also taken into custody, but the organization said that Nguyen Van Duc Do was arrested after his visit with Luu Van Vinh.

At least eight people have been arrested by Vietnamese authorities for dissenting activities in the past few weeks, much of which is connected to the chemical spill and its fallout.

In June, the Formosa Plastics Group acknowledged that it was responsible for the release of toxic chemicals from a steel plant it owns in April that killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless in Ha Tinh and three other central provinces.

Vietnam’s government said in a report to the National Assembly in July that the disaster had harmed the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, including 41,000 fishermen.

Formosa pledged to pay $500 million to clean it up and compensate people affected by the spill, but Vietnamese living with the country’s largest environmental disaster say that sum isn’t enough to compensate for the damage.

Act of defiance are rare in Vietnam, but the spill appears to have hit a chord with the Vietnamese as there have been demonstrations and other actions regarding the environmental and economic disaster.

Amnesty International said the arrests “represent an upturn in the use of the criminal justice system in a crackdown against human rights defenders and activists engaged in advocacy relating to the disaster which has included intimidation and harassment, and wide scale surveillance of activists.”

The organization called on the Vietnamese government to uphold the rights of freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression that is guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of which Vietnam is a signatory.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service.Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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