ucanews.com reporter, Hanoi
Updated: June 19, 2018 11:03 AM GMT
Thousands of Catholics in Ha Tinh province in Vietnam demonstrate on June 17 against economic development plans and a new cybersecurity law. (Photo courtesy of Mai Nhat Chi)
Catholics have been caught up in a police crackdown aimed at suppressing opposition to a proposed special economic development plan and the approval of a controversial cybersecurity law.
In Ho Chi Minh City, activists estimated that some 200 protesters, many of whom were Catholics, attempted to congregate in the city's downtown area but were detained, beaten and interrogated by police on June 17.
Eyewitnesses said the police action was aimed at stopping any demonstration talking place.
As in other parts of the country, the protesters were opposing a newly passed cybersecurity law and a controversial draft law on the establishment of three new special economic zones that they fear will be controlled by Chinese investors.
Nguyen Ngoc Lua, a Catholic rights activist, said she was beaten and dragged into a bus by four security officers after she attended Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral in the city. Lua was praying at the cathedral's Marian statue when she was randomly targeted by police who took her away.
Lua said she and more than 150 other people were taken to a detention area. Many of those detained were from other provinces neighboring the city and most were Catholics, she said. A large number were injured.
While detained, Lua said police shouted at her and beat up many protesters, including women, before questioning them. Police beat one man unconsciousness while a young woman was beaten so forcibly she lost a tooth, she said.
Lua said police accused them of marching to oppose the government.
At the demonstration, police also forced protesters to delete photos and videos on their cellphones.
Yen Thi, another protester from Lam Dong province, said she and her husband were detained for 20 hours without food and drink at a police station in Ho Chi Minh City where police officers accused them of gathering illegally and violating laws.
"We are patriots. We will demonstrate against the economic development draft law and abrogation of the cybersecurity law until our last breath," Thi said.
In other parts of the country, police reportedly cut off power and internet lines to prevent people from spreading information, photos and videos on protests.
Tens of thousands of Catholics, including priests from many parishes in Ha Tinh province, attended special Masses on June 17 to pray for justice and peace in the nation and for government leaders to protect the country. After the Mass, they took to roads to peacefully protest against the special economic development plans and the cybersecurity Law.
Party Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong said on June 17 that Vietnam needs the cybersecurity law to protect the regime and he would not permit people "shouting" at the state.
Trong accused hostile elements of abusing people's patriotism to stage protests against the state. He warned that the government would deal severely with opponents of the regime.
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