Ten jailed in Vietnam after violent anti-China protests

Police in Vietnam arrested dozens of people during June’s protests, which spanned several cities and turned violent in the central province of Binh Thuan

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 July, 2018, 6:57pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 July, 2018, 6:57pm

Ten people were jailed in Vietnam Monday for joining explosive protests that swept across the communist country last month after a draft investment law triggered widespread anger.

The rare rallies in the one-party state – where even peaceful demonstrations are outlawed – drew thousands to the streets, including in southern Binh Thuan province where protests quickly spun out of control.

In some areas of the province, demonstrators attacked riot police, torched patrol cars and stormed property in rallies over the proposed law that would grant investors lengthy leases in special economic zones.

Ten people were convicted Monday in Binh Thuan for their hand in the violence and sentenced to between two and three-and-a-half years in prison at the one day-trial where the suspects were accompanied by police in protective vests.

They were found guilty of “massive attacks against police deployments … injuring some officers, damaging two government vehicles and causing widespread traffic blockages for 15 hours on a national highway,” the Voice of Vietnam said on its website.

Several others have already been convicted for joining the nationwide rallies, including American student William Nguyen who was found guilty for “causing public disorder” last week and swiftly deported from the country after more than a month in jail.

His case drew ire from several US lawmakers demanding his release and was raised by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on a visit to Hanoi this month.

State media reports said Nguyen was “gathering and causing trouble” during the protests and was filmed urging others to climb over barricades. Video footage of Nguyen shared on social media showed he had blood on his head during the June protest.

The Vietnamese government had denied any use of force against Nguyen and had allowed US consular officials to visit him in detention.

The June 10 protests caught Vietnamese authorities off guard, though resentment over the draft bill had been brewing online.

Protesters feared the land would be handed over to China – a touchy topic in Vietnam, which has a tumultuous relationship with its powerful communist neighbour.

China was not named in the draft law, which has been tabled for now, and the government said it would reduce the original plan to hand out 99-year leases in the proposed special economic zones, but it was not enough to quell anger.

Six people are already behind bars for taking part in the protests, while another was given a suspended sentence.

Deadly anti-China protests gripped Vietnam in 2014 when Beijing moved an oil rig into a section of the disputed South China Sea claimed by Hanoi.

The countries frequently spar over competing claims in the resource-rich waterway, the latest in a long history of disputes – including a brief but bloody border war in 1979.

Additional reporting by Reuters