Amnesty condemns police attack on parishioners in Vietnam

Vatican Radio, February 24, 2017

An international human rights organization is campaigning for the Vietnamese government to ‎investigate recent police violence against some 700 marchers who were trying to file a lawsuit against a polluting ‎Taiwanese steel plant.  Amnesty International said on Feb. 20 that hundreds of marchers, including ‎women and children, from Song Ngoc Catholic Parish in Nghe An province were attacked by police on Feb. 14 while ‎travelling to a court in neighboring Ha Tinh province. They intended to submit 619 individual ‎complaints against Formosa Plastics, a Taiwanese company that spilled toxic waste into the sea in April ‎‎2016 causing Vietnam’s worst ecological disaster, according to a Reuters report.  The complainants ‎want damages totaling $20 million for the devastation of fish stocks they depended upon for their ‎livelihoods.‎

Father Francis Xavier Nguyen Hong An, head of Vinh Bishop’s House Office, issued a ‎statement On Feb. 20, calling on local Catholics to show their solidarity and support and pray for victims to recover ‎from their wounds soon.  Father An said that dozens of people were badly beaten and some were still ‎in hospital.  Father An added that Catholics must pray for “justice to be implemented in Vietnam and ‎for authorities to be aware of protecting people’s proper rights.”  Last weekend Catholics from a dozen ‎parishes in Vinh Diocese held prayers for the Song Ngoc parishioners and environmental protection. ‎The Formosa unit is based in area covered by Vihn Diocese. ‎

Amnesty International said that unidentified people who infiltrated the protest march started to throw ‎stones at the police who responded with tear gas and flash grenades. While running away, the group ‎was again attacked, this time by police, with fists, rods and electric batons.  ‎

In its urgent appeal, the organization called on people around the world to appeal to the Vietnamese ‎government to “promptly investigate the attacks against the 700 people on the Feb. 14 and bring those ‎suspected of responsibility to account in fair trials and without recourse to the death penalty.”  They ‎urged the Vietnamese government to “end its harassment of peaceful protesters, respect and protect the ‎human rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, and facilitate the lodging of ‎complaints by those affected by the April 2016 ecological disaster.”

Vietnam on Fe. 22 named for the first time 11 government, provincial and industry officials as being responsible for one of its worst environmental disasters, caused by Formosa Plastics.  More than 50 violations identified at Formosa’s steel mill, including the unauthorised use of a dirtier production process, led to the disaster and sparked several public protests, with coordinated rallies in major cities and an outpouring of anger on social media.  After months of mystery over the cause of the fish deaths, and public outrage against both the Hanoi government and one of the communist state’s largest investors, Formosa agreed in June to pay $500 million in compensation.