Police in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi broke a weekend protest by dozens of young people who were trying to highlight what they said was a slow, irresponsible government response to a mass kill-off of fish.
Sunday’s aborted protests were inspired by the washing ashore in April of tens of thousands of fish along the central coast of Vietnam. Government experts have variously cited "red tide” or other factors, but many Vietnamese blame a huge steel plant run by Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation, a subsidiary of Formosa Plastics Corporation of Taiwan.
“Thirty youths went to the center of Hanoi for the rally but they could not gather at the Grand Theater or the fountain,” blogger Nguyen Xuan Dien told RFA’s Vietnamese Service by telephone from Hanoi.
“They somehow managed to gather together and walked without chanting,” he added.
“They were all forced into a vehicle and taken to Long Bien district police station where they keep protesters,” said Dien.
The Associated Press quoted a protester as saying the group members were held for several hours and then released without charge.
Dien echoed widespread complaints about the government’s handling of the mass fish deaths, which have decimated fishing and tourism in the Southeast Asian country.
“It’s been 60 days since the mass fish deaths in the central region but they have not announced the result. Many issues have pointed to their irresponsibility towards the people, the environment and the country’s natural resources,” he told RFA.
A second blogger, Ho Chi Minh City-based Pham Thanh Nghien, said many more youths had tried to rally in that southern city, formerly known as Saigon.
“I had a phone call from a protester in Saigon telling me that they use barbed wire in the center of the city where there was supposed to be a peaceful protest,” he said.
“Many small groups of people went ahead with their protest plan but they could not gather together. My friend told me the largest group had 100 people. They were stopped after a short walk,” Nghien told RFA.
He added that Facebook was blocked by the government.
“The government always blocks social media whenever there are legitimate demands or pressure from people. In this case it is about transparency and accountability in environment issues,” Nghien said.
AP reported that Vietnamese state media said last week that scientists from Vietnam and abroad have reached a conclusion about the cause of the fish deaths, but will not announce it until after consulting with experts.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, issued a statement calling it “appalling that the authorities cracked down and detained peaceful protesters in Hanoi and elsewhere instead of providing even the most basic answers about the massive fish kills.”
“The Vietnam government should be leading the investigation into what caused these fish kills, not suppressing people’s efforts to demand answers and accountability,” he said on Sunday.
Reported by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Paul Eckert.