UPDATED at 3:34 P.M. EST on 2017-05-4
Authorities in Vietnam’s commercial capital Ho Chi Minh City will investigate a violent attack on an environmental activist which was filmed and posted to social media by a man believed to have planned the beating, state media reported Wednesday.
Shocking video of the May 2 attack on Hanoi-based activist Le My Hanh and two others at her friend Huong’s home in Ho Chi Minh City surfaced later that day on the Facebook page of a man named Phan Hung, and shows thugs believed hired by local police punching and kicking the women, while calling them “reactionaries.”
On Wednesday, District 2 police chief Tran Van Hieu pledged to investigate the incident, according to the Ho Chi Minh City Law newspaper, which referred to one of the victims with the initials “LMH” and the alleged leader of the assailants as Phan Hung.
The Youth of Ho Chi Minh news agency also quoted Ho Chi Minh City Police spokesman Nguyen Sy Quang confirming the probe and saying the incident is being considered part of a criminal case.
Rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Wednesday that Hanh’s case should be prosecuted immediately and expressing regret that authorities had waited more than 24 hours after the assault to act.
“Legally, this attack was very serious because there were signs of a crime being committed,” Dinh said.
“The first is encroaching on a residence and the second is intentionally inflicting injury, with the aggravating factor of threatening the public and disrespecting the law. Also, this is the use of social media to carry out organized crime,” he added.
“This case should be prosecuted and acted on in a serious manner.”
On his Facebook page, Hung called the beating a “welcome act for Le My Hanh to Saigon [the former name of Ho Chi Minh City]” and threatened “whoever supports the ‘three stripes’ [a reference to the flag of the former Republic of Vietnam] and wants to distort and defame leaders, or incite violence and subversion [to] please speak up!”
Hung is believed to have planned the attack and taken part in the beating of Hanh, who has slammed the government for not taking a harder stance against Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group after its steel plant in Ha Tinh province caused a toxic waste spill last year that killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen jobless in four coastal provinces.
The company pledged U.S. $500 million to clean up and compensate people affected by the spill, but the government has faced protests over the amount of the settlement and the slow pace of payouts.
Attempts by RFA to contact Hung about his decision to post the attack on Facebook went unanswered.
On Wednesday, Hanh told RFA that around five people—including one woman—barged into Huong’s house on Tran Nao Street in Ho Chi Minh City’s Binh An ward on May 2 spraying pepper spray before beating her and her friends.
She said the attack continued for several minutes before the group retreated, but added that the video ended before documenting what happened next.
“They [returned and] attacked us even more brutally, using the rest of the pepper spray directly in our faces,” she said.
“I became dizzy and lost consciousness right after that, and when I woke up they had disappeared.”
Hanh said she feels “haunted by the attack” whenever she goes out in public.
“I feel that I am in constant danger—they dared to blatantly go to the room of a normal citizen like me even though I have no conflict with them,” she said.
The activist said those responsible should face justice for what they had done, and expressed determination to continue with her work, despite the risks to her personal safety.
“We need to raise our voices to make this society better, so that people can live in a place where they receive better social security,” she said.
The May 2 incident marks the second time in one month Hanh has been targeted for her activism.
On April 5, a masked assailant attacked Hanh and a friend as she took a video of themselves joining a march near Hanoi’s West Lake to protest Formosa.
In that video, Hanh and her friend walk past a man wearing a red bandana across his face as he dismounts from a two-wheeled vehicle, approaches her from behind and begins to hit her about the head before the camera falls to the ground.
Call for rule of law
Also on Wednesday, dozens of activists and civil society groups in Vietnam signed a declaration calling on authorities to implement rule of law amid a series of violent incidents in recent months.
The signatories drew specific attention to the attack on Hanh and urged authorities to “take appropriate measures” to end the assaults, adding that they would issues calls for nationwide demonstrations if nothing is done.
The statement referred to a number of recent examples of activists being attacked by unknown assailants, including at a March 14 event commemorating a 1988 naval battle between Vietnam and China in the South China Sea and an April 30 incident in which activist Truong Van Dung was beaten while filming videos of protests against Formosa.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
Correction: A previous version of the article erroneously stated that 10 people attacked Hanh, including five men and five women.