Vietnam imprisons another 15 for SEZ law protest violations

By Tu Huynh   September 26, 2018 | 06:25 pm PT
Vietnam imprisons another 15 for SEZ law protest violations
15 people stand trial in Binh Thuan Province for attacking police officers and vandalizing a firefighting station. Photo by Thai Ha
A group of 15 protesters will be jailed for attacking police officers and vandalizing a fire police station last June. 

A court in the south central province of Binh Thuan Wednesday sentenced Pham Thanh, 31, to four years and six months in prison for disrupting public order during a protest that broke out against the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) draft law on June 11.

Fourteen others also got jail terms of two to four years on similar charges.

According to the indictment, on the morning of June 11, hundreds of people disrupted order under the guise of protesting the SEZ draft law.

They gathered on a section of National Highway 1 in Phan Ri Thanh Commune in the province's Bac Binh District, resulting in serious traffic congestion.

Nearly 300 police officers were dispatched to the area to maintain order and local authorities used loudspeakers to call on protesters to disperse. These efforts however failed as some protesters turned violent and attacked police officers with sticks, bricks, rocks and petrol bombs.

After the police retreated to the Phan Ri firefighting station, Thanh and his accomplices urged the crowd to storm the building. In the ensuing chaos, the defendants burned down cars and damaged or destroyed other properties inside the building.

The court concluded that the defendants' actions resulted in 19 police officers injured, 12 cars burnt, 18 motorbikes and many other properties damaged. The total loss was estimated at nearly VND12 billion ($514,000). The protest also paralyzed traffic along National Highway 1 for six hours.

At the trial, all defendants admitted to their crimes.

Prior to Wednesday's trial, Binh Thuan courts had, in two separate trials in July, sentenced 16 protesters to up to three years and six months in prison and given a minor an 18-month suspended sentence in two separate trials for disrupting public order.

A number of protesters in Binh Thuan are still under investigation for "resisting law enforcement officers in performance of official duties" and "deliberate destruction of property."

The protests in Binh Thuan were among several that erupted in Vietnam on June 10 and 11. Thousands of people had also taken to the streets in Hanoi, Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh City and several provinces, with banners and signs calling for the SEZ draft law to be scrapped.

They were objecting in particular to a provision that would allow foreign investors to lease land for 99 years, saying that such a law would allow foreign countries to undermine Vietnam’s sovereignty. The bill, which was scheduled to be passed in June, has been postponed for further discussions in October.

As Vietnam has delayed passing the Law on Demonstration several times, all acts to incite public protests are deemed illegal.

Following the demonstrations, police detained hundreds of protesters and said they had uncovered evidence that the protests were anti-state actions incited by organizations based in other countries using false, distorted information about the draft law.

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