Dissent punished as crackdown continues

Lengthy jail terms were handed out in a cursory one day trial

Protesting against the evils of foreign capital was once the sine qua non of orthodox Marxist behaviour, and yet the Communist party of Vietnam continues to target such activities in its harshest crackdown for years.

In a Ho Chi Minh City court-room, five activists were the latest to receive lengthy jail terms for their involvement in an environmental campaign that followed the Formosa toxic spill in 2016.

The Taiwanese company eventually admitted responsibility for the chemical leak from its steel plant in Ha Tinh which devastated fish stocks along hundreds of kilometres of coastline.

But the authorities have since broken up protests and arrested dozens of activists in an attempt to stifle demands for the closure of the steel plant, and for adequate compensation for local fishing communities.

The sight of Communist party officials closing ranks to protect big foreign business concerns may startle purists, but comes as no surprise to Vietnamese long accustomed to collusion between local cadres and wealthy investors.

In a cursory one day trial, the five received jail terms of between eight and fifteen years.

They were accused of activities aimed at overthrowing the country’s one-party system.

They were said to belong to a group, the Vietnam National Self Determination Coalition, and to have worked to damage the image and policies of the Communist party.

The alleged leader of the group, Luu Van Vinh, received a sentence of 15 years, as long as that handed out to some other environmental activists involved in the Formosa campaign.

Human rights groups say the Vietnamese authorities are continuing to step up repression, with bloggers and other government critics the main targets.

Analysts say the Communist government was unsettled by the scale of public protest following the Formosa disaster and is determined to crush a movement that brought together local rural communities with city based intellectuals and activists.