Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly May 02-May 08, 2016: Vietnam Cracks Down on Environmental Rallies for Second Sunday in a Row, Severely Beating and Detaining Hundreds of Activists Nationwide

Defenders’ Weekly | May 08, 2016

tuần tin

Vietnam’s security forces on Sunday violently dispersed peaceful demonstrations on environmental issues in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other localities, severely assaulting many activists, including the elderly, women and children, and detaining hundreds of them.

In Hanoi, police violently detained around 100 activists when they were on their ways to the city’s center. Police also arrested dozens of others while they were sitting on the pavement near Hoan Kiem lake. Detainees were taken to police stations where police officers questioned them. Some reported that police beat several detainees before releasing them in late afternoon.

Police in HCMC were more violent, attacking protestors with tear gas and severely beating many activists. Some of the victims were bleeding as a result. Bloggers said police detained over 300 activists and held them at a local stadium amid sunny and hot day.

Police also detained many activists in the central city of Nha Trang and the northern port city of Haiphong.

During the week, security forces in HCMC, Thanh Hoa, and Danang also detained and assaulted a number of environmentalists before freeing them.

Former prisoner of conscience Truong Minh Tam, who was detained by security on April 28 when he went to the central province of Ha Tinh to cover news on the massive death of aquatic species there, was released on May 4. He said during the seven-day detention, police officers forced him to take off all his clothes and beat him, and cursed him with dirty words. Tam said police had not shown him any warrant or decision of authorized agencies for his detention.

On May 7, 15 Vietnamese independent CSOs, including Defend the Defenders, issued a joint statement to publicize the establishment of their coalition—Vietnam Independent Civil Society Organizations Network (VICSON)—to fight for human rights in the country.

And many other important news


============= May 2================

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom places Vietnam on blacklist for violations of freedom of religion or belief

Vietnam Committee for Human Rights: For the sixteenth consecutive year, since 2001, Vietnam is on a blacklist of countries singled out by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations” of freedom of religion or belief. USCIRF recommends that Vietnam be designated by the US administration as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC).

In its 2016 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom released today, USCIRF recommends 17 countries for CPC designation in 2016. Ten are currently on the U.S. State Department’s list: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. USCIRF recommends maintaining these ten, and adding seven other countries in which religious freedom is seriously abused: Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria and Vietnam.

The U.S. State Department designated Vietnam as a CPC in 2004 and 2005, but removed it in 2006 prior to Vietnam’s admission to the World Trade Organization. In August 2015, a delegation of USCIRF Commissioners visited Vietnam to assess the situation of freedom of religion or belief.

“As the USCIRF’s report aptly reveals, religious freedom in Vietnam is a question of political control: state-sponsored religions have more freedom than independent ones, registered groups face less harassment that non-registered groups” said Vo Van Ai, president of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR). “Clearly, the government and Communist Party are not seeking to promote freedom of religion or belief, but to consolidate State control of religions in Vietnam.”

According to the USCIRF’s findings, whereas significant progress has been achieved for some groups in certain areas, “on the other hand, the government’s continuing heavy-handed management of religion continues to lead not only to restrictions and discrimination, but also to individuals being outright harassed, detained, and targeted with physical violence”.

Citing abuses against communities including the independent Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), Khmer-Krom Buddhists, Cao Dai, Catholics, Hmong Protestants, Montagnards, Mennonites, Hoa Hao, Falun Gong practitioners and Duong Van Minh followers, the USCIRF noted that, in particular, “religious organizations that choose not to seek government recognition face greater risk of abuse by government authorities”.

The report observes that certain abuses are committed by provincial and local officials because they do not understand government religious policies, but that “central government permits inconsistent and contradictory implementation” at a local level. Based on their meetings during the August 2015 visit, USCIRF concludes that there is “some degree of central government complicity in, or indifference to, provincial-level abuses”.

According to the report, whereas Buddhism is practiced by the majority of Vietnam’s 94 million population, “those operating independent from the state-sanctioned Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha often are government targets. This includes the leadership of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), such as Thich Quang Do, who remains under house arrest, and Buddhist Youth Movement leader Le Cong Cau. In April 2015, Le Cong Cau was detained and questioned for three days, and later in the year he was prevented several times from traveling to meet visiting government officials from the United States and Germany.” —

Created under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan government advisory body that monitors religious freedom worldwide and makes policy recommendations to the US President, Secretary of State, and Congress. Under the International Religious Freedom Act, the U.S. may impose a series of measures, ranging from travel restrictions to economic sanctions, on countries designated as CPCs.


HCMC-based Activist Detained, Beaten by Police While Protesting Formosa’s Pollution

Defend the Defenders: Do Duc Hop, an activist from Ho Chi Minh City, said he, together with other followers, were severely assaulted by the local police while they participated in a peaceful demonstration on May 1 against the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant’s alleged pollution of the water in the central coastal region which is believed to have caused the massive death of aquatic species in the region.

On Sunday morning, when Mr. Hop arrived in the city’s center where other activists gathered, police officers and plainclothes agents beat and handcuffed him and took him into police custody for over ten hours. During the detention, police officers interrogated him without providing food, he said, adding he saw police assaulted other detained activists in the police station.

Hop said police did not show any warrant or any decision from authorized agencies for the detention of him and other activists.

Mr. Hop condemned the police persecution against environmentalists and called on the public to voice their concerns about the contamination of the sea in the central coastal region. Vietnamese have rights to be informed of what happened in the central region’s sea water while the government must thoroughly investigate the level of water contamination with toxic chemicals and take proper measures to deal with the issue.

Local social networks have reported that dozens of activists in HCMC were arrested and seriously assaulted by the local police on May 1. Police released the detainees in the late evening of Sunday and early morning of Monday.

Đỗ Đức Hợp: Bị đánh đập lẫn bị còng tay như tội phạm do đi tuần hành vì môi trường

============= May 03============

Vietnam Government Strictly Controls Local Media: Well-known Bloggers

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s government has strictly controlled the local media, said well-known bloggers Huynh Ngoc Chenh and Doan Trang in interviews with the Voice of America radio.

Mr. Chenh, a veteran journalist who won the Net Citizen prize of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders in 2013, said Vietnam has no freedom of press. The country has over 700 printed newspapers and newswires and hundreds of television channels but they are under strict control of the communist party’s Commission for Propaganda and Education.

Sharing Mr. Chenh’s opinions, blogger Doan Trang said Vietnam’s authorities sometime ease their control over corruption issues.

Both bloggers said local activists have used social networks, especially Facebook to exchange information on critical issues such as China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), human rights violations, environmental pollution and corruption.

Vietnam’s government has strived to control social networks, however, it cannot succeed in many times.

In April 2016, the Reporters Without Borders ranked Vietnam at the 175th place among 180 countries on freedom of press.

Các nhà hoạt động: Báo chí Việt Nam vẫn bị kiểm soát chặt chẽ

=========== April 4=============

Vietnam Activist Alleges Torture, Animal-like Treatment during Seven-day Detention by Security Forces

Defend the Defenders: Mr. Truong Minh Tam, a member of the pro-democracy group Vietnam Path Movement, has said that he was tortured and treated like an animal by Vietnamese security forces during a six-day detention from April 28 to May 04.

Mr. Tam, 46, was arrested by security forces in the central province of Ha Tinh on Friday last week when he tried to cover news in Ky Anh district where the Taiwan-invested Formosa steel plant is located. The steel plant is suspected of discharging improperly-treated waste into Vietnam’s sea and was blamed for causing massive deaths of aquatic species in the central coastal areas.

During his detention, Mr. Tam, a former prisoner of conscience, was interrogated, beaten, and badly treated by security officers from the Ministry of Public Security and the Police Department of Ha Tinh.

Tam said police officers forced him to take off all clothes and then beat him in a closed room of a hotel managed by Ha Tinh province’s police. They cursed him with dirty words.

On Wednesday, security officers from the Ministry of Public Security robbed him before handing him over to the police from his home province of Ha Nam. Tam said they took away his laptop and cell phones without issuing receipts.

Mr. Tam said the police did not show him any warrant so he considered his detention an abduction by police. He also conducted a hunger strike to protest his illegal detention during the six days.

On May 1, three days after his detention, the VTV1 channel of the state-run Vietnam Television broadcast a news story saying Vietnam’s security forces arrested Truong Minh Tam and Chu Manh Son who were accused of triggering mass protest of local activists, fishermen and traders in many localities across the nation. The two activists were also alleged to have connection with “reactionary groups.”

Mr. Son, who works for local newswire GNsP, was detained while filming protestors against Formosa. He was released three days ago.

The two former prisoners of conscience went to the central coastal areas to investigate the real situation in the region affected by the deaths of hundreds of tons of aquatic species since April 6. The state media has not covered news on the catastrophe recently, possibly to avoid making public anger to the illegal discharge of very toxic chemicals by the Taiwanese Formosa.

Mr. Tam is a member of Vietnam Pathway Movement which works on enhancing democracy and human rights in the country. In October 2014, he completed his one-year imprisonment on the spurious charge of conducting financial fraud.

He was arrested on October 7, 2013 and was charged of conducting financial fraud. The trial was seen as a reprisal against his political activities as he actively participated in demonstration in 2011-2013 to protest China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea). Like other political cases, his trial and the appeal hearing were conducted under maximum security while his family and friends were not allowed to be in the courtroom

After completing one year in prison where he and other political prisoners said they were “treated like animal,” Tam was attacked and robbed by plainclothes agents recently.

Meanwhile, Mr. Son was arrested on August 2, 2011 and charged with conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and three years under house arrest. During the imprisonment, Son said he was treated inhumanely by prison authorities.

Since his release in early 2014, Son has been harassed by authorities in his home province of Nghe An. He was severely attacked by plainclothes several times.

The Vietnamese government accuses Son of being member of the U.S.-based Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party), a pro-democracy organization labelled as a terrorist group by the Vietnamese government.

After their detentions, many civil society organizations and human rights activists have condemned the government’s move and demanded for their immediate and unconditional release. Shawn Crispin, senior representative of the Paris-based Committee to Protect Journalists in Southeast Asia said “We call on authorities to immediately release journalist Truong Minh Tam, and to stop harassing independent reporters who cover news of national interest.”

“It is disheartening to see that the government of newly-appointed Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has already adopted the same shoot-the-messenger approach to the media as previous Communist Party-led regimes,” Mr. Crispin added.

Vietnam’s government has intensified a political crackdown against local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders prior to the general election for the parliament scheduled on May 22.

In the last eight days of March, Vietnam imprisoned eight political dissidents, including prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Ba Sam) and writer Nguyen Ngoc Gia. The government has also detained prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Ms. Le Thu Ha since December 16 last year without bringing them to court.

On May 1, security forces in Ho Chi Minh City and Danang severely assaulted many protestors and detained dozens of others during peaceful demonstrations against Formosa’s alleged discharge of toxic chemicals into the sea. Thousands of activists, fishing farmers and traders have participated in protests in many localities in recent days, including in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, Ha Tinh, Hue, Quang Binh and Quang Tri.

In the first half of April, the rubber stamp parliament in the 13th tenure elected the new leadership for the country in the next five years. A number of police generals were elected to the country’s leadership, including President Tran Dai Quang, Vice Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh and Chief of the Supreme People’s Court Nguyen Hoa Binh. Many police officers hold key positions in the ruling communist party, too.

In Vietnam where the ruling communists vow to keep the country under a one-party regime, police torture and degrading treatment remain systemic although the country ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2014.

==========May 05============

UN Human Rights Office concerned about implications of environmental disaster in Vietnam

ONLINECITIZEN: The UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia (OHCHR) expressed concern on Thursday over the impact of mysterious mass fish deaths along Vietnam’s central coast on the enjoyment of human rights in the country, in particular, the right to health and food.

The Regional Office is also concerned about the treatment of those joining protests which erupted over the fish deaths, and called on authorities to respect the right to freedom of assembly in line with international law.

Since April, tons of dead fish have washed ashore along a 200-km stretch of coastline in Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hua provinces. Media reports allege a plastics production plant could be to blame, although the government has stated the fish deaths were the result of a toxic algae bloom.

The right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is integral to the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water and sanitation, recognized in the International Covenant on Cultural, Economic and Social Rights, to which Viet Nam is a party.

“Vietnamese authorities should adopt legal and institutional frameworks that protect against such environmental harm that interferes with the enjoyment of human rights, and ensure that all the persons negatively affected, in particular fishermen, have access to effective remedies,” said Laurent Meillan, OHCHR’s Acting Regional Representative.

On May 1, hundreds of people organized peaceful rallies in several cities across the country to protest against the disaster in a rare show of public anger tolerated by the authorities. During these demonstrations at least a dozen participants were beaten and temporarily detained by police.

The UN Human Rights Office calls upon the Government to fully respect the right to peaceful assembly guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Viet Nam is also a party. “We urge the Government to conduct an independent, thorough and impartial investigation of the reported cases of excessive use of force by law enforcement officers,” said Meillan.


Obama’s visit to Vietnam brings world spotlight to country’s human-rights violations

Seattle Times: President Obama’s visit to Vietnam this month is an opportunity to remind that authoritarian nation’s leaders of their obligations to respect basic human rights.

A good number of Washington’s nearly 70,000 ethnic Vietnamese residents will be following the trip. Many of them fled communist rule themselves and remain concerned about the welfare of their loved ones in the homeland.

A recent crackdown on peaceful critics of Vietnam’s one-party government casts doubt on the country’s ability to adhere to the promises it made as one of 12 signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

To be included in that international trade agreement last year, Vietnam agreed for the first time to allow the formation of labor unions and to follow higher environmental-conservation standards. Such promises supposedly marked the beginning of a new era of transparency and civil discourse.

For part of 2015, Vietnam reported a decline in arrests and prosecutions of political dissidents.

But the numbers have suddenly crept up. As of last December, the U.S. State Department estimated that the government was still holding 95 political prisoners. On its Vietnam webpage, Human Rights Watch warns the country’s record “remains dire in all areas.” Those who dare to question state media or discuss civil rights in the open are subject to intimidation and assault.

In the last week of March alone, Vietnam courts convicted seven bloggers and activists.

Blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh and his editorial assistant, Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, were sentenced to five and three years in prison, respectively, for “abusing democratic freedoms” by simply posting critical views of the government on their popular website.

Last December, lawyer Nguyen Van Dai was removed from his Hanoi home after teaching human-rights workshops. His family has not been allowed to visit him or get him an attorney.

Other activists have been beaten up by police and subject to arbitrary detention. More than a dozen others have died while in custody.

Before Vietnam and the U.S. get too chummy over trade deals and a mutual desire to contain China’s rise, they must first confront Vietnam’s systemic oppression against its own people.

At every stop, President Obama should not let his hosts forget that the international community is watching and waiting for real reforms.


Ministry of Education and Training Corrects Regulations for Students in Social Interaction

Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) has corrected its recent circular which regulates higher education students’ social interactions, removing a number of regulations which are considered to limit freedom of expression of the students.

The move came after the ministry received many complaints from students about its Circular 10 issued on April 5 by which the ministry bans under-graduate and post-graduate students from organizing or participating in demonstration, illegally denunciating, producing and disseminating “reactionary documents”, participating in illegal political activities, posting and sharing articles which are harmful for national security, and defaming state agencies and officials in social networks.

Many students have opposed the circular, saying it is controversial and limits human rights, including the right of freedom of expression.

On May 5, the ministry corrected the circular, removing Article 6 which stipulates the bans.

Bộ Giáo dục VN đính chính quy định các hành vi sinh viên không được làm

=========== May 06============

HCMC Police Detain, Beat Two Environmentalists Who Conducted Sit-in to Raise Concern over Massive Fish Death in Central Coastal Region

Defend the Defenders: Two Ho Chi Minh City-based environmentalists Lau Nhat Phong and Mac Vi Luc have been detained and severely beaten by local security forces while the duo was sitting on a pavement to raise concerns over the catastrophe in Vietnam’s central coastal region which has killed large amount of aquatic species.

In the evening of May 5, Mr. Phong and Mr. Luc, who are Chinese Vietnamese, conducted a peaceful sit-in on Nguyen Hue Street, a well-known road for walking in District 1, with banners to demand the Vietnamese government to thoroughly investigate the causes of the en-mass aquatic killing in the central provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue.

Soon later, local security forces came and detained the two activists and took them to a police station where police officers questioned and severely beat them.

Phong was released at 11 PM of the same day while Luc was freed at 6 AM of the next day.

In the previous evening, Phong was also detained for hours by local police for conducting the same activity at the same place.

Thousands of Vietnamese activists, fishermen and traders have rallied across Vietnam to raise their concerns about the mysterious deaths of hundreds of tons of aquatic species in the central coastal region which started on April 6. Experts and environmentalists blame the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant in Ha Tinh for discharging toxic waste into the local sea water which caused serious environmental pollution.

Formosa steel plant, a unit of Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics, has an underground pipe via which the factory throws waste into Vietnam’s sea. The company admitted that they imported over 300 tons of toxic chemicals for cleaning their machinery.

Vietnam’s government is still conducting investigation to determine the real causes of the en-mass fish death.

The state media has reported that along with fish death, toxic substances have also destroyed coral in the central coast.

Many Vietnamese protestors have been detained, beaten and harassed in recent days. On May 1, the police in HCMC beat and detained dozens of demonstrators during the rally with participation of around 2,000 people, the highest number in the city in the past several years. Police severely beat the detainees during interrogation in custody before releasing them in late Sunday and Monday.

Vietnam’s security forces also kidnapped two former prisoners of conscience Truong Minh Tam and Chu Manh Son when the two activists tried to cover news on the mass fish death in the central region. Mr. Tam reported that during the seven-day detention ended on May 4 in Ha Tinh, he was tortured and treated like an animal. Police had not shown him any warrant or decision of relevant authorities for the detention.

The police forces in Hanoi also barred a number of local activists from attending the environmental rally which occurred in the city’s center on Sunday in which thousands of people participated. Some activists, including blogger Le Hoang, complained that they had been detained and beaten by the local police on May 1.

Vietnam’s government has offered a number of incentives for foreign investors in a bid to boost the country’s economy. However, it has also ignored warnings on environmental issues and lacked strict regulations on waste discharge by foreign factories, according to experts.


Vietnam squawks at Korean democracy prize

KOREA JOONGANG DAILY: A prestigious human rights award that commemorates one of Korea’s defining democratic moments has angered an Asian government – because it honors one of its dissidents.

Late last month, Nguyen Dan Que, 74, a pro-democracy activist in Vietnam, was named this year’s recipient of the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, along with Bersih, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations in Malaysia that fights for fair elections.

The committee responsible for naming the award winners declared on Thursday that the Vietnamese government has demanded a retraction and is pushing Korean authorities to “take all necessary actions” to ensure that the award be withdrawn. Hanoi threatened strained diplomatic relations if Seoul fails to follow through.

A letter dated April 22 from the Embassy of Vietnam in Seoul to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed Hanoi’s strong disapproval of Que receiving the award, which was announced by the May 18 Memorial Foundation on April 21. May 18 was the day in 1980 that the Chun Doo Hwan government started a crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in Gwangju that killed over 100 people.

It is “unreasonable” that Que be named a winner because he “has had criminal records of convictions and offences for violating [the] national security” of Vietnam, the single-page letter read.

While noting that the Vietnamese government “strongly” requested the award be rescinded, the embassy said that a failure to do so would be “against the interest of the strategic partnership” between the two countries.

The May 18 Memorial Foundation awards committee said on Thursday that it was informed of the protest when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs forwarded the letter to it. The foundation stressed it would not comply.

“We’ve decided not to respond,” said Kim Yang-rae, executive director of the foundation. “In the letter, it only says he violated national security laws and nothing about the backdrop.”

The Embassy of Vietnam did not answer calls on Thursday, a holiday, and neither did Korea’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Established in 1994 to commemorate the 1980 Gwangju Democratization Movement, the foundation has annually honored an individual or organization to highlight their “contribution to the improvement and advancement of human rights.”

Jailed since 2011 for the fourth time, Que is a physician in Ho Chi Minh City who led pro-democracy demonstrations. He has spent a total of over 20 years behind bars.

============ May 07================

Vietnam Independent CSOs Network Debuts, Striving to Fight for Human Rights

Defend the Defenders: As many as 15 independent civil society organizations (CSOs) have jointly formed a coalition named Vietnam Independent Civil Society Organizations Network (VICSON) which aims to defend and promote human rights in the Southeast Asian nation.

In its statement posted in local social networks, VICSON has vowed to work to advocate, protect and exercise basic human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and other Conventions (Covenants) on human rights, and to encourage, support, and establish independent civil society organizations in the country.

VICSON is a diverse network, but shares the vision of helping Vietnam, especially improving the country’s human rights situation and helping the nation fulfill its human rights obligations under international law, it said.

The network was established on January 10, 2016. On February 19, it held a meeting to select VICSON’s Secretariat which has duties to carry out all activities of the network.

The 15 member organizations represent diverse peoples from Vietnam, including indigenous groups, former political prisoners, women’s activists, land petitioners, and many believers of religions and faiths.

One of VICSON’s main efforts has been to do more regional work, including joining the ASEAN Civil Society Conference / ASEAN People’s Forum (ACSC/APF) as well as other international forums.

The founding organizations of VICSON are Vietnamese Women for Human Rights, Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience, Association of Con Dau Parish, Bach Dang Giang Foundation, Popular Bloc of Cao Dai Religion, Brotherhood for Democracy, Vietnamese Political & Religious Prisoners Friendship Association, Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ, Religious and Ethnic Minorities Defenders, Association of Bau Bi Tuong Than, Association of Dan oan Doi Quyen song, Defend the Defenders, Association for Promoting Freedom of Religion and Belief, Cao Dai and The Montagnard.

============= May 8, 2016==============

Vietnam Violently Suppresses Peaceful Demonstrations for Clean Environment, Hundreds of Activists Beaten, Detained

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces have violently dispersed peaceful protests for cleaner environment in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other places on May 8, beating and detaining hundreds of activists to local police stations, bloggers have reported.

During the demonstrations on the second consecutive Sunday, thousands of activists rallied in centers of the localities, hanging banners and chanting to demand for transparency in the investigation of the massive death of aquatic species in the central coastal areas since early April and request the government to take urgent measures to deal with the serious disaster

Observers said several hundreds of people attended the protest in Hanoi on May 8. Local security forces blocked all the roads leading to the Big Theater where protesters planned to gather and start their demonstration. Police arrested nearly a hundred activists, including young mothers and their children, and took them to police stations in Long Bien and Ha Dong districts.

Teacher Vu Manh Hung said police officers knocked him and other activists down on the ground when they stood near the Big Theater, and took the activists into a bus as if they were “dealing with animals.”

The police in Hanoi released all detainees one by one in late afternoon after interrogating them. Some activists, including blogger JB Nguyen Huu Vinh said they were left without food during lunch while blogger Thao Teresa accused a police officer in Thanh Tri district’s police headquarters of sexually abusing her while in custody.

In HCMC, the biggest economic hub in Vietnam, around two thousands of local activists gathered around Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon to protest Formosa’s alleged discharge of very toxic chemicals into sea water in Vietnam’s central coast. The local police used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators, beat many of them and arrested hundreds of people and took them to a local stadium. Police released many people but still kept many others until the evening of the same day.

Police also arrested a number of environmentalists in the central city of Nha Trang, among them was blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, winner of the Defender of The Year in 2015 of the Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders.

Many political dissidents, social activists and human rights across the nation complained that they have been barred from going out on Sunday. Police officers and plainclothes agents were stationed near their private residences from evening of Saturday.

During last week, police forces and plainclothes attacked and detained a number of environmentalists, among whom are Mr. Nguyen Van Thi from Danang, land petitioner Nguyen Thi Huyen from the northern port city of Haiphong and blogger Trang Nguyen from the central province of Thanh Hoa, and Lau Nhat Phong and Mac Vi Luc from HCMC. All of them, with exception of Ms. Huyen, were severely beaten by police.

Last Sunday, around 5,000 activists and people participated in anti-Formosa protest in Hanoi. The local police did not suppress the peaceful demonstration but blocked many high-profile activists from taking part in the event. Meanwhile, security forces in HCMC violently dispersed the peaceful demonstration for environmental issues with the participation of over two thousands of people, detained dozens of them and severely assaulted the detainees, including the elderly and female students, before releasing them in late night of Sunday and early morning of Monday.

In late April, police also detained two former political prisoner Truong Minh Tam and Chu Manh Son when they covered news on the disaster in Ha Tinh and Quang Binh, respectively. Tam alleged he was tortured and treated “like an animal” during the seven-day de etention on April 28-May 04 while Son was released earlier.

Vietnamese activists have rallied across Vietnam in recent weeks after hundreds of tons of aquatic species died along the coast of Vietnam’s central provinces of Thua Thien-Hue, Quang Tri, Quang Binh and Ha Tinh from April 6. The en-mass death of aquatic species may have been caused by contamination of the coastal seawater by toxic chemicals, according to experts. Formosa, a steel plant located in Ha Tinh province, discharged roughly 931,830 cubic meters of waste water into Vietnam’s sea in the first quarter this year.

One diver died and 15 others were hospitalized for intensive care after they worked in sea waters in the central region in April, according to Vietnam’s state media.

The leadership of Formosa admitted that they imported over 300 tons of highly toxic chemicals, including CYC-VPrefilm900, CYC-Vprefilm400, CYC-Vclosetrol360, and CYC-VMA 796 for cleaning their machineries and pipes in its steel production project in Ha Tinh.

The en-mass death of aquatic species in Vietnam, starting from the central coastal region early last month, has spread to other places such as rivers in the central province of Thanh Hoa and and coastal areas in the northern province of Thai Binh.

Fishermen in the central region have reported that toxic substances have killed all local coral. They also reportedly saw a huge volume of death fish in the sea bed which is covered with a thick white layer of toxic chemicals.

Intellectuals, independent civil society organizations and environmentalists have requested Formosa to stop discharging improperly-treated waste into the environment and apply all measures to clean up the polluted areas as well as compensate for the damages to the environment and livelihood of people in the affected areas.

They also demand Vietnam’s government to tighten control over discharge of toxic waste by Formosa and not allow the Taiwanese firm to continue to release improperly-treated waste into the environment. The government should close the Formosa steel project if it cannot guarantee not to pollute the surrounding environment with toxic waste.

Vietnam’s authorities have to launch a thorough investigation to find those officials responsible for approving Formosa project without considering its environmental impacts or those who failed to control the waste discharge of the project, they urged.

Activists have urged Vietnam’s public to strongly raise their voices to condemn environmental pollution linked to the country’s key industrial or extractive projects, including the bauxite mining projects in the Central Highlands and the nuclear power plants in the central coastal province of Ninh Thuan.

They said Vietnam should not sacrifice the environment, the country’s sovereignty, and interests of poor people for fast growth. Vietnamese people should not tolerate those state officials who have worked for their own personal interests but ignored public benefits.

On May 5, the UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia (OHCHR) expressed concern over the impact of mysterious mass fish deaths along Vietnam’s central coast on the enjoyment of human rights in the country, in particular, the right to health and food.

The Regional Office is also concerned about the treatment of those joining protests which erupted over the fish deaths, and called on authorities to respect the right to freedom of assembly in line with international law.

“Vietnamese authorities should adopt legal and institutional frameworks that protect against such environmental harm that interferes with the enjoyment of human rights, and ensure that all the persons negatively affected, in particular fishermen, have access to effective remedies,” said Laurent Meillan, OHCHR’s Acting Regional Representative.

The UN agency urged the Vietnamese government to conduct an independent, thorough and impartial investigation of the reported cases of excessive use of force by law enforcement officers.

Meanwhile, Vietnam continues its investigation on the fish deaths as well as Formosa’s alleged discharge of toxic chemicals and wastes. The slow investigation has angered local people while the state media coverage of the case has been limited.

In order to raise the country’s gross domestic products (GDP), the Vietnamese communist government has offered a number of incentives for foreign investors to encourage them to develop industrial projects in the Southeast Asian nation. Vietnam prioritizes economic growth without paying attention to environmental issues, experts said.

Vietnam has intensified crackdown against local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders two weeks ahead of the general elections for the country’s parliament and People’s Councils in provincial, district and communal levels, and the upcoming visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to the country in late May.

Prior to his first and final visit to the communist nation, many politicians and human rights activists have urged President Obama to urge Hanoi to improve its human rights records which have worsened since several months before the 12th National Congress of the ruling communist party in late January.

Vietnam has little tolerance for criticisms of the government’s socio-economic policies and considers all spontaneous demonstrations illegal.