Authorities target priests on central coast

Father Dang Huu Nam has been a leading figure in the demands for compensation. Photo courtesy Reuters.

Tension is growing between the government and Catholic priests on the north-central coast as protests continue against the handling of last year’s devastating toxic leak.

State media have accused two priests of inciting disorder. Officials are also thought to have been behind a protest called last week to denounce the clergy’s role in the environmental movement.

Activists suspect that security forces are preparing the ground to arrest the priests, who have helped local parishioners demand adequate compensation following the chemical spill last April.

18 priests from districts near the city of Vinh have issued a declaration rejecting the allegations against the two priests, Dang Huu Nam and Nguyen Dinh Thuc.

They said the two men had served the nation by taking a stand in support of fishermen who suffered from the destruction of fish stocks.

Insecurity and hate

More than 100 tonnes of fish were killed after toxic chemicals leaked from the Taiwanese owned Formosa steel works in Ha Tinh further down the coast.

The priests said they would continue to struggle for justice and truth despite efforts by the authorites to suppress peaceful protests.

State media have accused the priests, Thuc and Nam, of inciting their parishioners to cause disorder and said they had defamed the authorities in order to spread insecurity and hate.

It also accused them of disrespecting the unification of the country by holding a demonstration at the end of last month on the anniversary of the fall of Saigon in 1975, and of seeking assistance from exiles overseas.

War veterans and other pro-government groups gathered in the area last week to denounce the priests’ activities in the environmental movement, a rally that is widely suspected of being organised by the authorities.

Bloggers and activists targeted

Fishermen and their families have staged repeated demonstrations to condemn the government’s handling of the environmental disaster.

Many say they have not received adequate compensation despite the pledge of Formosa to pay US$500 million to make amends for the leak.

They are also demanding that the steel plant be closed until the government can convince local people that it has adequate safeguards in place.

The authorities have targeted bloggers and civil society campaigners who have offered support to the campaign and have broken up a number of demonstrations.

Activists suspect that they are now trying to stifle the protests by intimidating and demonising Catholic priests operating in the coastal villages.