Catholics join public protest in Vietnam

Mass, vigils calling for government to address environmental disaster
Catholics join public protest in Vietnam

Vietnamese Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop of Vinh urged Catholics to demand answers from the government to the cause of an environmental disaster in central Vietnam that led to the deaths of more than 100 tons of fish. (Photo courtesy of Vinh Diocese)

As rare public demonstrations gain steam in Vietnam, where thousands have taken to the streets to protest an environmental catastrophe, churches in central Vietnam have begun holding their own protests.

"We cannot remain indifferent to the disaster of environmental pollution which not only is destroying the sea areas in Central Vietnam but also causes a long-term disaster to the whole nation," Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop of Vinh, said in an open letter dated May 13.

In the letter, he urges Catholics to make environmental protection a priority, but also to push for their rights.

"I earnestly invite you to … peacefully express the right to ask for transparency in the governance of the country and the handling of the disaster and compel those who have caused such disaster to be properly tried by justice." 

A six-minute report on Vietnam Television on May 15 criticized Bishop Hop and other activists for exploiting the disaster to fight the communist government.

The narrator of the TV report said Bishop Hop’s open letter "described the incident in a biased way, exaggerating, alarming and inciting Catholics."

The state TV station said the bishop and activists were using "tricks" to incite people to public disorder and violent protests.

On May 15, at least eight parishes in Vinh held prayer vigils and special Masses according to Catholic activist Paul Tranh Minh Nhat.

"Some Catholics were banned and beaten … on the way [to] church," he told ucanews.com.

In spite of the heavy-handed tactics, hundreds of Catholics gathered on May 15. In photos distributed on social media, parishioners can be seen holding protest signs reading: "water needed for survival" and "people need transparency," among others.

Over the past month, more than 100 tons of fish have washed up along the coast in Central Vietnam, sparking outrage across the country. The environmental disaster is widely believed to be linked to a Taiwanese-built steel plant owned by Formosa Plastics that discharges some 10,000-cubic-meters of toxic waste into the water daily. Preliminary investigations suggest toxic substances may be at fault, though the government has yet to point a finger at Formosa.

The die-off and a sense of inadequate government reaction has led to rare large-scale protests in Ho Chi Minh City and elsewhere in the country, which the authorities have struggled to contain.

ucanews.com's staff correspondent in Ho Chi Minh City contributed to this report.

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