The man who posted video footage to social media of an attack on an environmental activist in Vietnam’s commercial capital Ho Chi Minh City admitted Thursday to having filmed the beating, but said he did not take part in it, according to state media.
Shocking video of the May 2 attack on Hanoi-based activist Le My Hanh and two others at her friend Huong’s home in Ho Chi Minh City surfaced later that day on the Facebook page of a man named Phan Hung, and shows thugs believed hired by local police punching and kicking the women, while calling them “reactionaries.”
On Thursday, the official Laborer newspaper reported, police from the city’s District 2 summoned Hung for questioning related to the assault and the video, which garnered some 1.8 million views within 24 hours of being posted on Hung’s page.
The report said Hung admitted to police that he and several other people had forcefully entered Huong’s home on Tran Nao Street in Ho Chi Minh City’s Binh An ward and that he filmed the attack on the three women, but maintained he did not take part in the beating.
The Laborer also quoted Ho Chi Minh City police chief Le Dong Phong as saying that Hung was not working for police.
Police are still trying to identify the attackers and determine their motive, the report said.
On his Facebook page, Hung had called the beating a “welcome act for Le My Hanh to Saigon [the former name of Ho Chi Minh City]” and threatened “whoever supports the ‘three stripes’ [a reference to the flag of the former Republic of Vietnam] and wants to distort and defame leaders, or incite violence and subversion [to] please speak up!”
Hung is believed to have planned the attack on Hanh, who has slammed the government for not taking a harder stance against Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group after its steel plant in Ha Tinh province caused a toxic waste spill last year that killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen jobless in four coastal provinces.
The company pledged U.S. $500 million to clean up and compensate people affected by the spill, but the government has faced protests over the amount of the settlement and the slow pace of payouts.
Attempts by RFA’s Vietnamese Service to contact Hung about his decision to post the attack on Facebook have gone unanswered.
Hanh recently told RFA that around five people—including one woman—barged into Huong’s house on May 2 spraying pepper spray before beating her and her friends for several minutes, retreating, and then returning to attack them “even more brutally.”
During the second assault, Hanh lost consciousness and woke up to find her assailants gone. The activist was left with injuries to her face, including several bruises.
Thursday’s report came a day after the 88 Project, an online group that supports and encourages freedom of expression in Vietnam, called the motive behind the attack “clearly” political in nature, referring to the messages Hung posted on his Facebook page.
“Hạnh and her friends were targeted because of their pro-human rights, pro-democracy political opinions,” the group said in a statement on its website.
The 88 Project said that police from District 2 had tried to persuade Hanh’s friend to drop a complaint the three women had filed against the attackers at the local station because their “injuries were not serious,” citing rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh.
“This raises the question of the connection between the attackers and the police themselves: why would the local police not want to investigate this serious case of infringement upon a citizen’s private residence and intentional infliction of injury on other persons,” the group asked.
The 88 Project also noted that the assault marked the second time in one month Hanh had been targeted for her activism, following an April 5 incident in which a masked assailant attacked her and a friend as she streamed a video of themselves joining a march near Hanoi’s West Lake to protest Formosa.
In that video, Hanh and her friend walk past a man wearing a red bandana across his face as he dismounts from a two-wheeled vehicle, approaches her from behind and begins to hit her about the head before the camera falls to the ground.
“Violence against human rights and pro-democracy activists has been rising in the last few years,” the group said.
“It is widely believed that the attackers are either plainclothes police or thugs who work for and/or are tacitly condoned by the government, as it is unclear how or if the authorities have investigated into the attacks against dissidents at all.”
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.