VietNam: Catholics assaulted by police for rallying against nation’s worst environmental disaster
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The protest of the faithful of Song Ngoc parish to raise public awareness. The pastor wounded. Protesters braved police beatings and injuries. Ten months ago a Formosa plant dumped 12 thousand cubic meters of toxic liquid at sea. The central regions of the country are on their knees, compensation of 500 million dollars has never been distributed to the population.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - On February 14, thousands of residents of the parish of Song Ngoc, in Nghe An province, led by their parish priest Fr JB Nguyen Dinh Thuc, decided to march 200 km at a time to the people's court in Ky Anh and make a complaint.

Frustrated for not having obtained any compensation and without the promised support from Nghe An government following the worst chemical spill from a steel mill in the foreign history of Vietnam, they set off in an attempt to draw public attention to the people's lives which have been severely affected by the disaster. Their march for justice, however, was met with violence and hostility of the police and government officials.

It has been 10 months since residents of 4 Vietnamese coastal provinces ( Hà Tinh, Quang Bình, Quang Trị, Thua Thien-Hue) in the Central region suffered from the most devastating disaster that shook the whole country to its core, when news leaked out not from government media but mainly from the social media that Formosa, a Chinese owned company had been releasing toxic waste into the ocean by Vung Ang, Ha Tinh province, causing a massive death of sea creatures and even fishermen whose lives were spent mostly in the affected waters. Song Ngoc parish was among those areas which suffered the most in terms of financial and psychological damages.

Complaints were filed by thousands of affected families immediately following the incident. Unfortunately, the government kept denying responsibility and blamed the disaster on pollution causing by human and on red algea development while the head of Hanoi Formosa Mr. Zhou Xuan had undirectedly admitted the company's wrong doing in a statement during a press conference: “You must choose between fishing for fish, shrimp, or a factory”.

In a settlement agreement signed between Formosa and the government officials without a public hearing, Vietnam government accepted a settlement of 500 million US dollars from the company on behalf of the victims. That money, though nominal for millions of now un-employed families, has never been distributed among them.

The march has been planned to take place for several days. But after only 20 km into the supposedly 200 km journey, they faced a massive force of both plainclothes and uniformed police, using extremely violent means to assault peaceful parishioners. Numerous people, freelance news reporters, food truck drivers, even Fr. JB Nguyen Dinh Thuc suffered from injuries at the hands of the ones whose job supposed to be “serving and protecting”.

At the instruction of their good shepherd, the litigants from Song Ngoc remained calm and composed yet defiant. They sit down and prayed or sung hymns to keep the morale up high.

Fortunately, people from neighbouring parishes supported them by bringing food, water and offered shelter at parish centre so they can seek refuge while being sought after by the local authorities. Braving injury and threats, Fr. JB Thuc vowed to lead the people to their destination regardless how long it would take “We have to file a lawsuit against Formosa for the world to see how much we concern about environmental disaster. So that we would not feel ashamed to our children. Today we start to walk. Should it takes more than 1, 2 or 3 days, even 1 week, we will arrive”.

In the latest development, after failing to disperse the crowd, local authorities came to bishop Nguyen Thai Hop of Vinh diocese and asked him to persuade the Song Ngoc litigants to go back home. After consulting with the bishop, Fr. Thuc and the rest had agreed to go back home and send delegation to the court instead.

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