Vietnamese Police Break up Protest Camp at Factory Accused of Pollution

Hundreds of uniformed officers destroy tents and attack protesters with shock batons and water cannon, sources say.

A view of the Pacific Crystal textile factory in northern Vietnam's Hai Duong province, Sept. 2017.

Police in northern Vietnam’s Hai Duong province violently dispersed a protest camp on Monday set up in front of a foreign-owned textile factory, tearing down tents and attacking area residents with shock batons and water cannon, local sources said.

Protesters had been camped in front of the factory belonging to Hong Kong-owned Pacific Crystal for months, forcing the firm to cease its operations in Hai Duong, a highly industrialized province 31 miles east of the capital Hanoi.

For more than two years, Pacific Crystal has discharged smoke smelling like “burnt plastic” into the air and polluted local water sources, residents have charged in reports to local authorities which they say have been ignored.

Police attacking the protest camp on Monday “used electric batons and clubs to beat us, and also used water hoses,” one protester told RFA’s Vietnamese Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“They had no respect for anyone, not even women and girls. They beat us all, basically anybody that they saw,” he said.

Protesters’ heads were left cracked and bleeding in the assault, which was carried out by hundreds of police wearing different styles of uniform, RFA’s source said, adding that authorities had not sent anyone in to talk to the protesters before launching their attack.

“They just burned the tents to the ground and took all of the people’s pots and dishes away with them,” he said.

“But we will set up our tents again and keep monitoring [the factory],” the source said.

“We’d rather die now than have our children die in the future because of the pollution.”

'They protect foreign companies!'

Also speaking to RFA, a resident of Hai Duong’s Lai Vu commune said that residents living in the affected area have now lost their faith in local authorities, adding, “Vietnam has Chinese businesses all over the country.”

“When the police came to this area, they banned all cameras and any kind of recording device,” she said. “We have to sneak around to record them, but if they see us, they will beat us and smash our phones.”

“This is not what the People’s Police are supposed to do,” she said. “Instead of protecting their own people, they protect foreign companies!”

Reached for comment, Vu Dinh Tinh and Nguyen Van Han, the president and vice president of Hai Duong’s Kim Thanh district, where the factory is located, refused to respond.

Nguyen Van Toan, chief of the district’s People’s Committee office, said however that the police action had been planned by authorities at the provincial level.

“We in the district only cooperated with them. We weren’t directly involved in this,” he said.

Protests against foreign-owned factories that emit pollutants in Vietnam are not uncommon and pose a challenge to the communist state’s authority.

A toxic spill by Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group in central Vietnam in April 2016 polluted more than 125 miles of coastline along four provinces and prompted a slew of protests by resident, fishermen, and tourism industry workers who lost their livelihoods to the environment disaster.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Richard Finney.