Activists arrested over fish protests

Some police officers confronted demonstrators and attempted to snatch their banners. Photo courtesy of Tin Mung Cho Nguoi Ngheo.

Some police officers confronted demonstrators and attempted to snatch their banners. Photo courtesy of Tin Mung Cho Nguoi Ngheo.

Two former political prisoners have been arrested by the authorities and accused of stirring up public anger over the mass fish deaths in central Vietnam.

State television reported that Truong Minh Tam and Chu Manh Son had gone to Ha Tinh, one of the worst affected provinces to “interview local people, produce TV reports and post them on anti-state web sites”.

Police are reported to have presented Tam with a receipt confirming that he drew a monthly salary from the Vietnam Path Movement, an unregistered civil society organisation that campaigns for human rights.

They and other activists say they were monitored closely by the security services from the moment they arrived in the four central provinces affected by the environmental disaster.

Activists from another independent group, VOICE Vietnam, who have been trying to arrange relief supplies for local people, say they are being besieged by police at a church in Ha Tinh and fear arrest if they go outside.

The television report said that Tam and Son had gone to the area with the intention of inciting demonstrations and public disorder by posting their reports on “bad web sites”.

Demonstrators took to the streets of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other major cities on Sunday to demand more transparency. Many called for the expulsion of Formosa of Taiwan whose steel plant in Ha Tinh is suspected to have been the source of a chemical leak.

The government says it has found no evidence that Formosa was involved in the fish deaths.

There were scuffles with police during the demonstrations, with some marchers beaten up and others temporarily detained.

In Ho Chi Minh City, video footage showed dozens of protesters being detained by blue uniformed police and driven off in vans. They were threatened with public orders offences but were later released,

Government officials have admitted that their response was slow and ineffectual when the first reports emerged in early April that thousands of dead fish were washing up on the shores of central Vietnam.

The inadequacy of the government reaction was quickly exposed by the rapid spread of reports on social media, with official newspapers also showing uncharacteristic freedom to report on the disaster.

The police now appear to be looking for ways to regain control – by targeting activists involved in the dissemination of information.