Hundreds of “thugs” hired by authorities in Vietnam’s central Nghe An province over the weekend severely beat a group of Catholic parishioners, including women and children, that had protested the government’s handling of a toxic waste spill, sending dozens to the hospital, according to sources.
Members of Phu Yen and Van Thai sub-parishes, under Song Ngoc parish in Nghe An’s Quynh Luu district, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service they were attacked after gathering at the Son Hai commune People’s Committee on May 28 to retrieve a fellow parishioner who had been detained earlier by police.
After arriving at the building to pick up Phu Yen parish member Nguyen Thi Tra, some parishioners began using their smartphones to record authorities, who responded by sending “thugs” into the crowd to beat them, they said.
“There were almost 500 people, such as thugs, working for the police to beat people—including women and children—as a way to prevent them from using their phones to record,” said one source, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity.
As many as 25 people required treatment for injuries that left them “bleeding and badly hurt” at a nearby hospital after the attack, the source said, without providing details of who had been injured.
Tra had been arrested earlier on Sunday after stopping to record a crowd that had gathered as she made her way through Son Hai’s Village No. 9.
Parishioners said that a group of women attacked Tra while she filmed the gathering, and continued to do so, even as police intervened and brought her to the People’s Committee in Son Hai, where Van Thai sub-parish is located.
A local police officer had requested that parishioners retrieve Tra from the People’s Committee before the larger confrontation occurred on Sunday, they said.
In the aftermath of the attack at the People’s Committee, Tra was taken to an undisclosed location where she was “beaten further and left in the middle of the road,” the parishioners said. She was later discovered by a passerby and brought home “covered in bruises and in a panic.”
Days later, on Tuesday evening, Catholic priest Nguyen Dinh Thuc was holding a prayer gathering at Van Thai church when “hundreds of people” arrived carrying stones, bricks, knives and metal pipes, and began threatening him and the congregation, a local parishioner told RFA.
When Thuc and the congregation fled the church to area homes, the mob followed them, hurling projectiles through windows and injuring several of the Catholics inside, said the parishioner, who also asked to remain unnamed.
Thuc was forced to stay at the home of a congregant and, despite being ordered by local police to leave, remained there until midnight, citing concerns for his security.
The assault on Tra followed a recent “safety drill” conducted by local authorities in front of Van Thai church involving explosives and the firing of weapons that the government claimed was part of a bid to “protect the road close to the river.”
Van Thai parishioners told RFA the drill was a form of intimidation by local authorities, angered by members of the church speaking out about an April 2016 waste spill by Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group’s steel plant that they say destroyed their livelihoods.
“They were shooting in front of our church in a very confrontational way,” Priest Thuc had told RFA at the time.
The Formosa waste spill killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen jobless in four coastal provinces.
Formosa has voluntarily paid U.S. $500 million to clean up and compensate coastal residents affected by the spill, but slow and uneven payout of the funds by the Vietnamese government has prompted protests that continue to be held more than a year later.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.