In Vietnam’s latest crackdown on dissent, police have arrested an activist who organized a protest against a polluting steel plant, saying that he instigated demonstrators to attack and injure several police officers. A statement on the website of Nghe An provincial police in central Vietnam said 34-year-old Hoang Duc Binh was taken into custody Monday for allegedly abusing democratic rights and opposing officers on duty. Police said his alleged incitement of protesters at a local government office in April caused public disorder.
The protests was among several in recent months over massive fish deaths last year in four central provinces that were caused by the release of pollutants from a steel complex by Taiwanese firm Formosa Plastic Group. The incident, Vietnam’s worst environmental disaster, has devastated fishing communities and tourism. Formosa has been fined $500 million.
The provincial government said in a statement that after Binh’s arrest, hundreds of protesters Monday used logs, stones and bricks to disrupt traffic on Highway 1, the country’s main north-south road. The provincial government blamed a Catholic priest, Nguyen Dinh Thuc, of instigating the protest to demand Binh’s release. Thuc has not been arrested, but the government said his “repeated law violations must be condemned and be seriously dealt with in accordance with the law.”
Also on Monday, the Standing Committee of the rubber-stamp National Assembly accepted the resignation of Vo Kim Cu as a deputy of the assembly for his role in the Formosa disaster when he served as party chief and chairman of the people’s committee of Ha Tinh province, where the plant is located, the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper reported. International human rights groups and some Western governments have often accused Vietnam of jailing people for peacefully expressing their views. Hanoi maintains that only lawbreakers are put behind bars.