Protests continue despite police threat

Catholic parishioners in Vinh took to the streets to demand action over Formosa

Catholic parishioners in Vinh took to the streets to demand action over Formosa

Protests have been continuing in central provinces over the mass poisoning of fish earlier this year, despite an ominous warning from police about the role of “subversives” in the environmental movement.

Rallies took place in towns near the affected coastline on Sunday, with protesters demanding full accountability from the government.

Protesters called for the immediate closure of the Formosa Ha Tinh Steel plant, which admitted last month that its release of toxic chemicals caused the death of millions of fish.

Activists say they want to see evidence that the $500 million compensation promised by the company will be distributed fairly and that the company will be fully held to account.

The rallies were held despite allegations from the police chief of Nghe An province that Viet Tan, the Vietnam reform party headquartered in the United States, was behind the environmental movement.

The communist authorities continue to denounce the group as a terrorist organisation even though it has repeatedly stated its commitment to peaceful protest and change.

Officials have in the past sought to intimidate government critics and civil society activists by accusing them of affiliation with a banned organisation, membership of which can lead to long prison terms.

The police chief, Colonel Nguyen Huu Cau, said that Viet Tan had taken advantage of the environmental catastrophe by inciting protests.

He said the Communist party and the state had conducted an aggressive investigation and had uncovered documentation to prove Viet Tan’s role.

He warned the public not to “take the bait” from subversives.

Police in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City moved quickly to break up rallies by activists in the weeks following the environmental disaster.

The latest police statement indicates that an even more repressive approach is being considered.

The threatening language suggests that the government is unsettled by the extent of public discontent in the aftermath of the Formosa leak, which damaged the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people in central provinces.

Confidence in the government’s ability to protect the environment, and its will to hold foreign investors to account, has been severely damaged by the chemical leak and its aftermath.