More than 4,000 Vietnamese Catholic parishioners were blocked and assaulted by police on Monday as they attempted to march to township offices to protest government inaction over their loss of livelihood following a massive pollution-linked fish kill in April, sources say.
The April spill caused an estimated 70 tons of dead fish to wash up on the shores of Vietnam’s central coast and was blamed on a release of toxic chemicals from a steel mill owned by a subsidiary of Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group.
Marchers had tried several times in the past to demand relief from authorities in Vietnam’s coastal Ha Tinh province, “but the police always stopped us,” a protester named Phuong told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“Yesterday, we decided to march [to the Ky Anh township offices], but police had already blocked all access to the highway,” she said.
Over 200 policemen had been mobilized to block the march and had set up barricades, seizing protesters’ banners and loudspeakers as they approached, Phuong said.
“Protesters tried to climb over the barricades, but we couldn’t get through. Police used batons to beat people, and one woman was injured,” she said.
Protesters were finally able to reach the offices of the township people’s committee, “but unfortunately, the office was closed when they got there, and people had to go home,” Phuong said.
Beaten by police
Nguyen Thanh Lang, head of the Quy Hoa parish ministry administration, said that protesters had marched at first without interference from the police, but were then stopped at the barricades.
“The police beat them,” Land said. “One person’s arm was broken, while others received minor injuries.”
“The victim is still in the township hospital,” he said.
The beating victim, an elderly woman called Nhon, was taken to the hospital by police, who paid for her treatment and procedures, Nhon’s daughter Hoa told RFA.
Though Nhon had fallen when struck by the police, “they continued beating her,” Hoa said.
“The hospital performed an ultrasound and found out they had broken her arm.”
Reached for comment, an official in the township’s Ky Ha village denied that police had injured the woman.
“She fell because of a stampede. Nobody beat anyone,” he said.
“The protesters had brought banners and loudspeakers, and they spoke ill of our leaders and the government,” he said.
Support from church, donors
Most of Ky Ha’s villagers are fishermen or make salt, but since the April fish kill have survived mainly on support from their church or from individual donors, sources said.
“Four months have now passed since the disaster, but we have each received only 15 kg of rice per month, and its quality is so bad that we can’t eat it,” Phuong told RFA.
“We haven’t heard a single word from the authorities showing their sympathy or support.”
And though teachers have come back to the village to make plans for the coming year, village parents now have little money to pay for school, parish administrator Lang said.
“If they cut all the school fees, our children will go back to school. But if they cut only a small percent, they won’t be able to return.”
Reported by Xuan Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Richard Finney.