Hundreds of Vietnamese have been arrested in a crackdown on anti-China riots sparked by territorial tensions in the South China Sea, authorities said Thursday, as Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung mulled “legal action” against Beijing over its deployment of an oil rig in disputed waters.
Among those arrested in recent days were dissidents and pro-democracy activists who were brutally beaten by police and suspected government agents even though they had peacefully protested against Beijing’s action, or were merely planning to join demonstrations, activists said.
Vietnam's Deputy Foreign Minister Pham Quang Vinh told reporters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Manila Thursday that "hundreds of people" were in "temporary detention" in connection with riots, which targeted Chinese and other foreign-owned businesses last week following the May 1 deployment of the oil rig.
"They will be seriously punished in accordance with the law, including bringing them to justice in court," Vinh said, according to Agence France-Presse.
Protests 'against China's wrongdoings'
His comments came as Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung told reporters in e-mailed statements that his government was “considering various defense options, including legal action, in accordance with international law” against China over its behavior in the waters claimed by both countries.
"I wish to underscore that Vietnam will resolutely defend its sovereignty and legitimate interests because territorial sovereignty, including sovereignty of its maritime zones and islands, is sacred," said Dung, who was also attending the Manila meeting.
In a speech before business and political leaders at the forum, Dung slammed Beijing for violating international law and failing to adhere to his country's demands to "immediately withdraw" the rig from its location near the disputed Paracel Islands, according to reports.
"The entire Vietnamese nation has been protesting against China's wrongdoings. In various localities of the country, the people have spontaneously launched demonstrations, in which some people became restive and violated the law," he said.
Four people were killed and more than 100 injured—according to China’s foreign ministry Wednesday—when enraged mobs torched and damaged hundreds of foreign-owned businesses in anti-China violence in Vietnam last week.
More than 3,000 Chinese have already returned home from Vietnam by sea and air, reports said over the weekend.
Dung said Vietnam will “strictly punish” the law violators.
Hanoi had earlier lauded "patriotic" displays by its citizens, allowing anti-China protests that drew thousands of people in a rare step to amplify state anger against Beijing.
But it backpedalled after the protests turned violent last week, with rioters targeting factories in industrial parks around the country.
Authorities forcibly broke up anti-China protests held in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City late last week and on Sunday.
Dissidents and pro-democracy activists who participated said they were beaten, with some arrested or attacked even before they got to the protests.
Nguyen Thi Ngoc Lua, daughter of prisoner of conscience and Hoa Hao Buddhist sect follower Nguyen Van Lia, said she and her two siblings were intercepted by dozens of police officers on their way to a fellow dissident’s house where they had planned to meet others before joining protests in Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday.
“When we opened the taxi door, there were about 20 people in plainclothes awaiting us and arresting us,” she told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Monday.
“They beat me first. They kicked me at my lower belly and in my private parts. They ripped my long gown. They also beat my brother very brutally,” she said.
Online activist Vo Quoc Anh told RFA that on the same day he and some fellow activists were intercepted and beaten by police while they were on the way to a protest site on the city’s Pham Ngoc Thach Street.
“I saw that they were chasing me, one hand grabbed me and I tried to pushed it away but immediately one person approached me and two other surrounded me. One person grabbed my neck, another one beat me,” he said.
“I told them I only protest peacefully, and this is ridiculous. They threatened me and punched me again.”
Dissident blogger Huynh Trong Hieu said he was another victim of police brutality after he was detained by the police that morning.
“Police surrounded all the protesters and forced them into a bus. They drove us to the police station in District 1.”
“The first thing they did when we got there was threaten us and attack us. They beat us to make us panic,” he said.
'They told me to go with them'
In Hanoi, Vu Manh Hung, another dissident blogger, said he had been detained the same day while on his way to protest in front of the Chinese Embassy, with police saying it was so that he would not be tempted to cause violence.
“When we got off the bus [near the embassy] and walked a few meters, a police car came and some people got out, stopped me, and told me to go with them,” he said.
“They said it was to help me not being taken advantage of by bad people…. He told me I could not control myself,” he said.
He was forced into the car and held overnight, along with other protestors, he said.
At another protest in the city on May 15, online activist Gio Lang Thang was detained along with 50 others and beaten by police.
Police went through his phone and computer while he was held overnight, he said.
“They beat me and they took my personal belongings,” he said.
“I condemned their acts. What they did violated the law because they are supposed to implement the law but they did not.”
Reported by An Nhien and An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.