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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1419

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (12:03): Last April, dead fish began to be washed up on the shores of central Vietnam, from the Ha Tinh province down the Hue province and spreading down almost to Da Nang city. The evidence suggested that this was the result of a toxic discharge from the Formosa Ha Tinh steel factory, a Taiwanese-owned company operating in the Vung Ang industrial zone. This has devastated the lives of local fishermen and all those communities that rely on fishing in central Vietnam. Given the size and impact of this environmental disaster, it is most concerning now to see the level of crackdown being shown to those who, through peaceful protest, are trying to advance their concerns about this environmental disaster.

I have been advised by members of the Vietnamese community that police used harsh physical force against protesters on 14 February this year when people at a rally led by Catholic priest Father Nguyen Dinh Thuc were determined to exercise their legal rights. More than 500 people who were directly affected by this environmental disaster gathered, and they were intent on proceeding to a court in order to seek compensation. I am advised that the peaceful protesters intended to travel more than 200 kilometres to exercise their legal rights, and effectively sue the Formosa steel company for compensation. However, the Vietnamese authorities intervened and prevented the marchers organisers from hiring buses to travel to Ha Tinh. Further, I am advised, that a number of protesters who made their way to Ha Tinh were prevented by the police from entering the court and, as also reported, they received extreme and harsh treatment at the hands of the authorities.

This protest march is the latest by affected communities in central Vietnam as they continue to seek justice for this environmental disaster. Over the past few months, I have been advised, people have held mass gatherings to raise awareness about ongoing environmental issues, and they are frequently harassed and threatened by local authorities. Even more concerning is that, I have been advised, a number of detentions of activists who have reported and spoken on issues regarding this environmental disaster. For instance, Nguyen Van Hoa, a 20-year-old citizen journalist who was covering the protests last year, was arbitrarily detained in January and is currently being held incommunicado. He has been charged under article 258 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code for 'abusing the democratic freedoms'.

I have been advised also that another two activists who have spoken about the environmental disaster were arrested in late January. Nguyen Van Oai, a former prisoner of conscience and founder of Catholic Former Prisoners of Conscience, was arrested on 19 January and charged with 'resisting persons on duty'. Ms Tran Thi Nga, a prominent blogger and social activist who has frequently discussed issues of police corruption and who reported also on the incident of the Formosa environmental disaster, was detained in her home. She recorded her arrest by police and distributed the recordings on social media. A former Taiwanese migrant worker, she was charged with 'conducting propaganda against the state'. She is the mother of two sons. Ms Nga was hospitalised following her treatment.

I mention these incidents because they are occurring in Vietnam as we speak. They have all occurred over the past month. It is alarming that these people, who are after all seeking truth and justice, are being physically beaten, harassed, threatened and even arbitrarily detained. The Vietnamese authorities seem intent on cracking down on activists, regardless of the object of their protest. The Vietnamese authorities continue to target those who advocate for justice rather than, as in this case, prosecuting those who have caused long-term harm to the environment and local communities. I fear that these incidents and arbitrary arrests are indicative of Vietnam's government clamping down on the rights and liberties of its people. (Time expired)