Authorities in Vietnam have issued a warrant for the arrest of an activist blogger who has drawn attention to the government’s handling of a toxic waste spill last year that devastated the country’s central coast, he and a fellow rights campaigner said Friday.
The warrant to arrest Bach Hong Quyen—a champion of democracy, human rights and the environment—was signed into effect on April 19, fellow activist Thao Teresa told RFA’s Vietnamese Service, adding that Quyen anticipates he could be detained at any time.
“Warrant No. 245 was obtained in Ha Tinh province and [information about the warrant] was published by the Ha Tinh media,” she said.
“Quyen plans to allow them to arrest him, though he doesn’t know how the arrest will be carried out.”
Teresa said the blogger, who has reported on last year’s toxic waste spill by Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group’s steel plant in Ha Tinh, has “two options available to him now.”
“One is to flee to another country, but he does not like that option,” she said.
“He always knew he would one day go to jail for his activism.”
Quyen told RFA that he is prepared to serve time in prison.
“I accepted it when I chose this path fighting for human rights, because I am a member of the Vietnam Path movement—the mission of which is to act as an advocate and educate people about their rights,” he said.
“The possibility of being arrested does not scare me or hold me back, because we must fight when there is injustice.”
Several activists have been harassed by the authorities for covering the April 2016 Formosa waste spill, which killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen jobless in four coastal provinces, or for their involvement in protests against the company.
Earlier this week, thugs believed hired by local police assaulted Hanoi-based activist Le My Hanh, who had slammed the government’s handling of the spill, and two others at her friend’s home in Ho Chi Minh City. A man believed to have orchestrated the beating posted a video of the incident on his Facebook page.
Last week, nearly a thousand protesters surrounded a police station in central Vietnam’s Nghe An province to demand an apology from authorities for their confiscation of 200 T-shirts carrying Formosa protest slogans and beating of the two men caught transporting the shirts.
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.
Also on Friday, activists in Vietnam confirmed to RFA that authorities released blogger Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy from Prison No. 5 in Thanh Hoa province after she completed a three-year sentence for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state” under Article 258 of Vietnam’s penal code.
Thuy is the assistant of well-known blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh, a former police officer also known as Ba Sam, who is currently serving a five-year sentence on the same charge after criticizing the government in his online writings.
The two were convicted together in March last year after being held in prison since their arrests on May 5, 2014. Sentences in Vietnam typically include time spent in jail before conviction.
In September, a court in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi rejected an appeal by Vinh, sending him back to prison to serve out the remainder of his sentence.
The ruling prompted condemnation from several international human rights groups, which expressed concerns over the case against Vinh and Thuy and demanded that the government immediately release them.
The U.S. Embassy in Vietnam has called the convictions of Vinh and Thuy “inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press provided for in Vietnam’s Constitution,” and with Vietnam’s obligations under its international commitments.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.