Vietnamese activists and bloggers have expressed doubts that the government will be fully transparent about the results of its investigation of mass fish deaths that began three months ago along the country’s central coastal provinces, when officials publicly disclose their findings on Thursday.
Government experts have claimed that a “red tide,” or a release of dangerous chemicals by humans, caused at least 100 tons of dead fish to begin washing ashore in Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, and Thua Thien-Hue provinces in early April.
But ordinary folks believe that wastewater runoff from a huge steel plant run by Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation, a subsidiary of Formosa Plastics Corporation of Taiwan, poisoned the fish.
Though the company has denied responsibility, the incident sparked rare protests in Vietnam, as well as in Taiwan, over lost livelihoods and environmental damage.
Nguyen Hue Chi, a scholar who runs a website devoted to bauxite production and mining, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the airing of a documentary about the incident on Taiwanese television has raised many questions about Formosa’s role in the environmental disaster.
Though the Vietnamese government has been tight-lipped on the matter, he said it is impossible to keep hiding the truth from the public.
“I hope the announcement will be very close to the truth,” he said, referring to the government’s revelation of the results of its investigation. “That is what people want to see—the government’s transparency.”
"They only lie'
Another well-known blogger, Huynh Cong Thuan from Ho Chi Minh City, is doubtful that the government will be forthcoming about the catastrophe’s true cause.
“We all know them [government leaders] so well. They only lie,” he told RFA. “They would have announced the cause a long time ago if they could have. Why do they have to wait until now when three months have passed?”
“They know the cause,” he continued. “But because of something going on internally they don’t want to tell people. They have been pressured to do so, but they are not worried. This wait is meaningless.”
A teacher in Tuy Hoa province, who declined to give his name, said he didn’t expect much by way of the government’s announcement.
“Maybe we won’t get any useful information from their announcement,” he said.
“I have no hope because I have seen a lot of incidents like this before,” he said.
Vietnamese blogger Nguoi Buon Gio, who is based in Germany and writes under the name Wind Trader, echoed Hoa’s sentiment.
“I think we can’t expect anything,” he told RFA. “This is just another arrangement to make the government look good.”
If the government had acted fairly in the matter, then it would have announced the cause of the catastrophe three days after it occurred, he said.
“The [ruling Communist] Party waited for quite some time to make calculations for the government,” he said. “When they do that, the people are left with nothing.”
Le Khoi, a Vietnamese worker in Taiwan, told RFA some that some nongovernmental organizations operating in that country have gotten involved in programs publicizing the disaster, while some workers have protested against the Vietnamese government’s handling of the disaster.
The Taiwanese government had offered to assist Vietnam in its probe of the cause of the mass fish kill, but Vietnamese officials declined.
‘Hostile and reactionary forces’
Rare protests in Vietnam, where public displays of disagreement with the government are quickly suppressed, prompted To Lam, the country’s deputy minister of public security, on Tuesday to demand that police stop activities meant to stir up protesters.
He told participants at a meeting in Ho Chi Minh City to review police performance for the past six months that “hostile and reactionary forces” had taken advantage of political events, and environment and security issues, to increase their activities, according to a report by Thanh Nien Daily newspaper.
In early June, police in the capital Hanoi broke up a peaceful protest by dozens of young people who were trying to highlight what they said was a slow, irresponsible government response to the mass kill-off of fish.
Officers hauled off about 30 people who had gathered in the central part of the city to a police station, where they were held for several hours but later released without charge.
Authorities also had blocked a planned protest in Ho Chi Minh City.
Independent journalist Pham Chi Dung said To Lam’s remark about hostile forces was not fair to those who joined protests against the mass fish kill because police had detained and beat hundreds of people in Ho Chi Minh City in early May.
“That is the fact, and international human rights groups as well as foreign governments condemned the Vietnamese police for their actions,” he said, adding that authorities could not prove that a hostile element existed among the protesters.
“The police are very worried about protests,” he said. “So what do they need to do now? They need to be truthful.”
“The more they repress, the stronger the fight becomes,” he said. “Fighting stems from oppression. The fighting will continue until injustice and oppression are resolved.”
Protester Thu Nguyet told RFA that no matter how much authorities repressed people’s right to demand environmental protection, he was still willing to join others in protest.
“We will try our best to show them that what they are doing [repression] is wrong,” he said. “We can’t win, but we have to do it so young people know that their laws are totally wrong. We fight for our people not for ourselves. If we don’t stand up, our people will slowly die from this pollution.”
Reported by Kinh Hoa and Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English.