Vietnamese activist who protested toxic spill released after 5 years — Radio Free Asia
A Vietnamese man returned home on Wednesday after serving a five-year prison sentence for protesting a toxic waste dump in 2016, as lawyers for victims of the country’s worst environmental disaster continue to press for compensation.
Police arrested Nguyen Van Oai and dozens of others in January 2017 during a crackdown on people protesting Taiwan-based group Formosa Plastics. The company owned a steel mill that dumped toxic chemicals into the ocean, devastating more than a hundred miles of coastline in four central provinces of Vietnam.
In September 2017, Oai was sentenced to five years in prison for resisting duty officers and disobeying a court verdict. After serving his sentence, he arrived home in the central province of Nghe An.
“I have mixed feelings, both happy and sad,” he told RFA’s Vietnamese service on Wednesday.
“I’m happy because I’m released from this small prison, but I’m going back to the big prison,” he said, referring to everyday life in Vietnam.
Oai said his five-year sentence was an injustice.
“Look at the two counts. “Disobedience to court verdict” and “resistant officers on official duty”. I realize that they did a lot in my case, whether it was creating fake records, forging signatures, trying to prove that I did everything they accused me of” , did he declare.
Oai said that at the time of his arrest police believed he had played a central role in organizing the protests against Formosa.
Oai’s mother, Tran Thi Lieu, told RFA she was happy he was finally home.
“I was sad and worried when he was in prison, but I knew he had sacrificed himself for a cause shared by everyone,” she said.
The five-year sentence was Oai’s second prison term. His first was from 2011 to 2015 after he was arrested for participating in protests for causes including China’s growing influence in Vietnam, the need for stronger environmental protections and support for a free press.
Trial in Taiwan
In June 2019, three years after the Formosa disaster, nearly 8,000 people filed a lawsuit in Taiwan against Formosa with the help of environmental organizations there, as well as in Vietnam, the United States, in France and Canada.
Now, the plaintiffs are asking Taiwan’s Supreme Court to reconsider a requirement that they must obtain formal permission to participate in the case.
The Formosa Monitoring Coalition, which has been helping affected Vietnamese, said at a press conference in Taipei, Taiwan on Monday that plaintiffs would be harassed by their one-party government if they were to file documents with the Economic and Cultural Bureau. from Taipei. in Hanoi.
“We made this call because it can really put complainants at risk. It is very likely, with about 90-95% certainty, that they will be harassed, arrested or even investigated. They could even be detained and imprisoned, and similar incidents have happened in the past,” Peter Nguyen Van Hung, director of the Vietnamese Office for Migrant Workers and Immigrants in Taipei and a member of the coalition, told RFA.
“Thus, we ask the Supreme Court of Taiwan to have a lenient opinion on the authorization in order to give the plaintiffs, who are also the victims, the possibility of maintaining their valid lawsuit and having their case tried in Taiwan”, did he declare. noted.
Taiwanese courts have twice rejected the Vietnamese victims’ claims, but in December 2020, the Supreme Court of Taiwan requested a review of the case.
But the court required that they notarize their authorizations for legal representation, as they are foreigners in a case filed in Taiwan.
“This requirement is unworkable, and I think politics interfered with this requirement from the Supreme Court of Taiwan,” Hung said.
Formosa in 2016 admitted that toxic chemicals discharged from their huge industrial plant had caused one of the biggest environmental disasters in Vietnam’s history and offered $500 million in compensation after a Vietnamese government investigation into the spill determined that the release of toxic chemicals, including cyanide from the plant, had caused extensive damage. environmental damage.
Although the $500 million was earmarked for cleanup and support for coastal residents whose livelihoods were destroyed by the spill, critics say the money has not done enough for the victims and are calling for a additional compensation in the Taiwanese courts.
Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.