PROTESTS against proposed special economic zones and foreign investment in Vietnam entered their second week on Sunday as thousands demonstrated peacefully in provinces and cities across the country.
While security was tight in many areas, with increased police presence in public areas, thousands gathered peacefully in central Ha Tinh province, according to Reuters.
The nationwide demonstration is in response to a draft law that would allow foreign investors 99-year leases; a provision critics fear would lead to Chinese companies’ encroachment on Vietnamese territory.
Since the protests began on June 9, there have been hundreds of arrests as well as reported assaults by police.
The most violent clashes occurred in Binh Thuan province where riot police used tear gas, smoke bombs, and water cannons to disperse the protesters. According to police, 102 people were detained after throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.
#Vietnam 10&11-06: Violent demonstrations broke out in Phan Rí Cửa in the province of Bình Thuận. Angry protesters attacked police stations & government buildings and torched police vehicles during protests against the draft laws on special admin-econ zones & on cyber security. pic.twitter.com/3aFZ46mUM5
— th1an1 (@th1an1) June 12, 2018
But demonstrations on Sunday were largely peaceful with protestors holding signs that said “No leasing land to Chinese communists for even one day” or “Cybersecurity law kills freedom.” The protest in Ha Tinh province lasted for two hours without clashes with the police, witnesses said.
The mass protests were a rare sight in a country that severely restricts the right to freedom of assembly. Authorities require approval for public gatherings and refuse permission for meetings or marches they deem politically unacceptable.
Vietnam is a communist country, it bans any form of protest. But when China is stealing 2 of our islands. They did what I didn't expect they would do. (Photo not mine) What a time to be alive. pic.twitter.com/kfIlAxJvQD
— Mich (@michellenhatly) June 12, 2018
“The crackdown on these protests is one more stain on Vietnam’s human rights record,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
“People should be protected in holding demonstrations, especially around issues of great public interest,” he said. “But with Vietnam’s poor record of handling protests, there’s every reason to believe that police are punishing dissent, not simply keeping public order.”
Dozens of protesters were also detained in Ho Chi Minh, including an American student whose parents have called on US President Donald Trump to intervene to secure his release.
Lawmakers have postponed the passage of the law until the next session in October in an attempt to subdue future protests.
Mass protests have taken place in Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang and Hanoi against the draft laws on special admin-econ zones and on cyber security. Soon dispersed by police, some reported arrests #Vietnam #protest #politics pic.twitter.com/rMRIn6Zrqt
— Nga Pham (@ngaphambbc) June 10, 2018
The proposed special economic zones would have fewer regulatory restrictions than industrial and commercial sites in the rest of the country.
The proposal has raised fears areas of Vietnam could fall to the control of China, with whom the Vietnamese people have generally had long-running mistrust.
Vietnam is among the most outspoken critics of Chinese construction and militarisation of artificial islands in the Spratly island chain in the South China Sea’s disputed waters.