Police crack down hard on protests against mass fish kill
by Quang Ha

For the past few days, peaceful protests have been occurring in Vietnam’s main cities following a mass fish kill caused by Hung Nghiep, a steel company. At least 200 people have been arrested and forcibly loaded into vans, including women and children. A priest was also among those detained. A petition calling for a stop to the pollution and for the payment of damages reaches a million signatures.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Vietnamese authorities have responded with a crackdown after days of protests in the country’s main cities over mass fish deaths. Police broke up peaceful demonstrations, and arrested at least 200 people, including women and children.

Thousands of people had taken to the streets of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and other cities demanding transparency from the government over the activities of the Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corp (owned by Formosa Plastics), which has been blamed for a major environmental disaster that threatens the local fishing industry.

Thuy Linh, a writer in Hanoi, saw the police action. "As I walked towards Hoan Kiem*, I saw at least 100 people inside vans. The police and some plainclothes agents were holding young people in a chokehold and dragging some women into buses. The protest was peaceful. Why did they have to do it?”

Fr Nguyen Van Toan, a Hanoi Redemptorist, was also arrested and taken to a police station. “People were sitting on the lakeshore, or in front of the People’s Committee, and yet they were arrested,” he said.

Everything started a few weeks ago when thousands of dead fish washed up on beaches in the central provinces of Tĩnh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, and Thua Thien-Hue. In early May, reports indicated that the fish had died as a result of pollution caused by a 17-metre sewage pipe that discharges wastewater directly into the sea near the Hung Nghiep steel plant.

The company admitted that it has dumped 12,000 cubic metres of wastewater every day. The last time it did so (perhaps last month), they used 300 tonnes of extremely toxic chemicals to clean the sewer.

The Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Corp has a track-record of unethical actions in other countries. In 1998, it dumped 5,000 tons of toxic waste, including mercury, in Sihanoukville, a town in Cambodia, forcing more than a thousand people to leave their homes.

In September 2009, authorities in Texas and Louisiana fined the company US$ 10 million for releasing hazardous material into the air and ground.

Almost a million people have signed a petition to stop to Hung Nghiep, which has a 70-year contract with the government, because it is damaging the environment.

The petition calls for Formosa Plastics to “stop immediately all actions causing environmental damage”, and take “measures to restore a clean and safe environment” for humans as well as the sea life. It also calls for the company to compensate for the environmental damages. The local fishing industry has lost so far US$ 200,000.

* Hoan Kiem Lake is located in Hanoi’s historical centre.