Father John Baptist Nguyen Dinh Thuc (left) and Father Anthony Dang Huu Nam of Phu Yen lead prayers for victims of the Formosa marine pollution disaster at Song Ngoc Church on March 5. (Photo from tinmungchonguoingheo.com)
Catholics in north-central Vietnam are continuing their protests against a Taiwanese industrial plant responsible for one of the country's biggest environmental disasters.
Thousands of Catholics attended a special Mass in Song Ngoc Church in Nghe An province on March 5 where they prayed for the victims of the 2016 disaster and for justice against Formosa Plastics, the Taiwanese company that admitted responsibility for poisoning coastal waters and killing fish stocks. Father John Baptist Nguyen Dinh Thuc celebrated the Mass that drew a crowd from the neighboring parishes of Manh Son and Phu Yen.
Following the Mass, the congregation marched to the People's Committee of An Hoa Commune raising banners and shouting, "Environmental damage is a crime." Their protest is part of a string of protests throughout Vietnam on March 5.
Catholics from Dong Yen parish marched to the steel plant owned by Formosa Plastics responsible for the environmental damage and demanded they shut down and leave. Police erected barriers, arrested freelance journalists and confiscated cameras and cellphones.
In Ho Chi Minh City, some 100 protesters gathered in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, also on March 5, in support of the victims of the disaster who lost their fishing livelihoods when millions of fish were poisoned. Many of the protesters were detained and beaten by police, while many other activists were prevented from taking part in the protest. Redemptorist Father Paul Le Xuan Loc was also attacked and detained by police while he and another priest were on their way to join the protest.
On March 3, Father Thuc demanded that central government officials in Hanoi prosecute Nghe An provincial officials for violating the people's rights to complain when they attacked a march attempting to file a lawsuit against Formosa Plastics on Feb. 14.
Father Thuc accused Le Xuan Dai, vice chairman of the People's Committee, and Nguyen Huu Cau, director of public security in Nghe An province, of "seriously violating laws" and required them "to be dealt with properly," in a March 3 letter.
On Feb. 22, the Communist Party's Inspection Committee named 11 government officials, including former environment minister Nguyen Minh Quang, considered responsible for the 2016 environmental disaster. The officials were accused of being "irresponsible in leadership and direction, lax in management and administration, lack of inspection and monitoring." The committee also said they should be disciplined or face an official review.