Hundreds of Vietnamese fishermen swamped a court in coastal Ha Tinh province on Monday with lawsuits demanding compensation from a Taiwanese steel plant whose release of toxic waste polluted coastal waters and killed tons of marine life, leaving thousands out of work.
Police were mobilized in the morning to block buses carrying the mostly Catholic petitioners from Phu Yen parish to Ky Anh town, but 199 cases were received by the court by the evening, with one protest organizer predicting more would be filed next day.
“More people may join us tomorrow, because not only people from [nearby] Dong Yen parish but also from other parishes who hear about this may come,” activist Paul Tran Minh Nhat, who along with parish priest Anton Dan Huu Nam helped parishioners file their claims, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“We have already submitted 199 cases, and there are another 340 cases to go,” he said.
“The court did not want to receive these cases at first, but we understand the law and told them that this is the beginning of the process, and that they only have to acknowledge receipt.”
As villagers came forward to file their suits, others who had gathered in and around the court building prayed and sang songs in support, Nhat said.
“At the beginning, the police were very aggressive, but they could not control the situation. Everyone has been very peaceful,” he said.
Despite heavy monitoring of the crowd by local police, there were no immediate reports of injuries or detentions.
No help over losses
In June, Ha Tinh province’s Formosa Plastics Group steel plant acknowledged it was responsible for the release of toxic chemicals in April that killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless in four 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.
In August, more than 200 policemen blocked and assaulted some of the 4,000 Catholic parishioners who tried to march to Ky Anh township’s administrative offices to protest government inaction over their losses.
Vietnam’s one-party communist state closely controls and monitors the Catholic community, the second largest religious group in the country.
Reported by Cat Linh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Richard Finney.