A local court sentenced four women to six-month jail terms after finding them guilty of disrupting public order for their part in protests last year that blocked a major highway, RFA’s Vietnamese Service has learned.
Hoang Thi Thai, Mai Thi Trinh, Mai Thi Tiem and Le Thi Thuy joined other local people in blocking Highway 1A near the Ky Anh township in Ha Tinh province last year as a protest over local authorities’ detention of two men.
The Dec. 11. 2015 protest closed the road for 20 hours as demonstrators demanded the release of Hoang Van Thiet and Nguyen Huu Phuong.
Nguyen Huu Phuong was arrested while working at the Formosa Plastics Group steel mill, and Hoang Van Thiet was abducted, presumably by the government. Both men are ‘security members’ of the Dong Yen parish, according to witnesses.
The men’s sudden detention sparked the demonstration that resulted in the arrests and convictions.
“Local peoples blocked vehicles and the government said that they illegally blocked the vehicles, so they arrested them and tried them,” a witness told RFA. “What they did was for the people, but it is unjust to arrest and try them.”
While the four women were convicted on Monday, a witness told RFA that the court also tired an unknown number of men in connection with the demonstration. The men’s names, the charges they faced, and their sentences were not immediately known.
In June, Formosa 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.
The Taiwan-based 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 disaster sparked rare public demonstrations in Vietnam and the protests didn’t end when the government announced the settlement. Hanoi has been systematically cracking down on the demonstrations and arresting protest leaders.
It’s unclear if the road closing demonstration was directly related to unrest over the Formosa plant, but it occurred in the same province as the steel mill.
Dong Yen parishioners have seen the government confiscate their land for industrial development and have born much of the impact of the Formosa spill.
The Catholic Church has spearheaded the legal response to the Formosa disaster, helping local people file hundreds of lawsuits even though Vietnam’s one-party communist state closely controls and monitors the Catholic community, the second largest religious group in the country.
Reported by An Nguyen for RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.