The Vietnamese government is attempting to prevent Catholic parishioners from filing more lawsuits against the Taiwan-owned steel company responsible for a chemical spill that devastated the country’s central coast, RFA’s Vietnamese Service has learned.
Thousands of parishioners in the central province of Nghe An who were attempting to file new lawsuits Tuesday found their way blocked by police, nails strewn across the road and some drivers who were scheduled to take them to the courthouse abducted, witnesses told RFA.
“The situation is very tense because policemen visited all the houses that have cars,” said Catholic Priest Danh Huu Nam, who aids people with the lawsuits. “The police told them that they will crack down on them if they drive the parishioners to the court, and some drivers were kidnapped and harassed.”
While the People’s Court in Ky Anh on Oct. 5 dismissed more than 500 lawsuits filed against the Formosa Plastics Group, that didn’t stop many Vietnamese from trying to gain more compensation from the company.
In June, the Formosa Plastics Group acknowledged that it was responsible for the release of toxic chemicals from a steel plant it owns in April that killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless in Ha Tinh and three other central provinces.
Vietnam's government said in a report to the National Assembly in July that the disaster had harmed the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, including 41,000 fishermen.
Formosa pledged to pay $500 million to clean it up and compensate people affected by the spill, but Vietnamese living with the country’s largest environmental disaster say that sum isn’t enough to compensate for the damage.
The government’s actions appeared to be an attempt to prevent people from descending en masse on the Ky Anh courthouse to file the suits. Vietnam tightly controls dissent, but the Formosa disaster has sparked rare protests across the country.
Such protests have been problematic for the authorities, who accuse anti-government groups of trying to exploit the disaster to stir up anger and damage the ruling Communist Party.
In September, hundreds of people from the central province of Nghe An journeyed some 125 miles by bus to the Ky Anh courthouse to file the first batch of lawsuits.
‘Some drivers were kidnapped and harassed’
This time, the authorities appear to be taking a new approach as they threatened a taxi service’s business license, harassed drivers, blocked roads and sewed the streets with nails in an attempt to keep people away from the courthouse, the witnesses said.
Danh Huu Nam told RFA that an official from the Ministry of Public Security attempted to talk him out of going to Ky Anh.
“Some drivers were kidnapped and harassed,” he said. “Taxis are being stopped on the roads, and some people dropped nails on the streets to create accidents.”
Danh Huu Nam said he attempted to press on, but was stopped by police, who took his license, dragged people out of the van he was driving and harassed them.
The Catholic Church has spearheaded the legal response to the Formosa disaster even though Vietnam’s one-party communist state closely controls and monitors the Catholic community, the second largest religious group in the country.
Many of the people living in the areas affected by the spill are Catholic.
While the government’s action appears to have stopped another mass filing of the lawsuits, Danh Huu Nam said they would continue, only in smaller groups.
“The ministry of police and the local government won’t let us go, so now we are going to go in smaller groups,” he said. “We can’t go in thousands.”
Reported by Mac Lam for RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.