Vietnamese Police Attack Crowd Seeking Release of Detained Protesters

The clash comes two days after residents block a highway to protest operations at a polluting waste-processing plant.

Residents of Quang Ngai province's Pho Thanh commune gather on a highway to protest local pollution, in an undated photo.

Police in south-central Vietnam’s coastal Quang Ngai province on Monday attacked a crowd of hundreds who had gathered outside government offices to demand the release of 31 protesters detained over the weekend following clashes over pollution from a waste-processing plant, Vietnamese sources say.

Many were beaten in the assault, with at least one injured and sent to a hospital, sources at the scene told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

“We had invited authorities to come talk to us, but when we got here they sent police out to beat us,” one woman said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Many were beaten, including men, women, and children, and one pregnant woman had a miscarriage,” the woman said, adding, “We came to the Pho Thanh commune’s people’s committee to talk to the chairman, but he refused to talk to us, and let the police deal with us.”

Speaking to reporters on Sept. 4, vice director of Quang Ngai police Col. Vo Van Duong said that protesters had taken three hostages on their arrival at the commune offices, releasing one woman but holding a policeman and the waste plant manager until about 4:00 p.m.

"What they did was very dangerous and was a crime," Duong said, quoted in state media.

The clash came after local residents demanded that authorities release 31 protesters detained by police on Sept. 2 after about 500 residents blocked a nearby highway, causing an hours-long traffic jam and throwing stones at police, local sources said.

Police sources put the number still held at only nine, however, saying that others initially detained had only been fined.

Plant resumes operations


The crowd had blocked the road after hearing news that a waste-processing plant blamed for local pollution had resumed operations after being closed for several days following protests beginning in July, another protester told RFA, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The protests began on July 29 when people objected to the plant because it was built in a location too close to our homes, and because [local authorities] did not consult with us when they built it there,” he said.

“On Aug. 23, the vice chairman of Quang Ngai province admitted that mistakes had been made in building the plant and promised to move it to another location, and after that the plant suspended operations.”

“But on Sept. 2, we found out that it was working again,” he said.

After asking commune authorities to verify the news, “they refused to come talk to us,” he said, adding, “We waited for a long time, and then we got upset.”

“People blocked Highway 1A so that the police would see us and file a report about the plant,” he said.

Protests against processing plants and 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 Viet Ha. Written in English by Richard Finney.