Hundreds of villagers in central Vietnam’s Binh Dinh province held five local officials hostage for a day before releasing them late on Friday to demand that authorities free more than a dozen people detained for holding an environmental protest, according to sources.
Residents of My Tho and My An communes, in Binh Dinh’s Phu My district, on Wednesday held a protest against what state media has reported are plans by Vietnam Trading Engineering Construction’s (Vietracimex) to construct a wind power plant.
The villagers blocked a local highway and threw sand at police over the plans, which they said are a cover for a titanium ore exploitation operation that they believe will destroy local forestland through pollution.
Authorities broke up the protest and detained 14 people for “disturbing public order.”
Early on Friday morning, some 500 people surrounded the local government office in My Tho commune and took five officials hostage, including the local ruling Communist Party chief, the party chairman, and three police officers, a villager told RFA’s Vietnamese Service, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
The mob forced authorities to release the 14 people arrested in the earlier protest and eventually allowed the five hostages to go free around midnight on Friday, before returning to their homes, the villager said.
Public demonstrations are extremely rare in one-party Communist Vietnam, where dissent is not tolerated.
In April last year, farmers in Dong Tam commune, in the capital Hanoi’s My Duc district, detained dozens of police officers and officials during a week-long standoff over their claims that the government was seizing their farmland for the military-run Viettel Group—the country’s largest mobile phone operator—without adequately compensating them.
At the end of the standoff, Hanoi’s mayor pledged not to prosecute residents and to investigate their claims, but months later, the city’s Inspectorate determined that they had no right to the land and awarded it to the military.
Vietnam has also seen regular protests over the government’s handling of a toxic waste spill that occurred along the country’s central coast in April 2016, polluting more than 125 miles of coastline along four coastal provinces, killing an estimated 115 tons of fish, and leaving fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless.
Two months after the spill, Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group acknowledged it was responsible for the release of the chemicals from its massive steel plant located at the deep-water port in Ha Tinh province’s Ky Anh district.
The company voluntarily paid U.S. $500 million to clean up and compensate those affected by the spill, but the slow and uneven payout of the funds by the Vietnamese government has prompted ongoing demonstrations.