Vietnamese authorities jailed 15 more protesters from southeastern Vietnam’s Binh Thuan province on Wednesday on charges of disrupting public order for participating in a violent demonstration in June against a proposed law concerning special economic zones.
The defendants, who ranged in age from 18 to 33, were handed prison terms of two to four and a half years each during a one-day trial, state media reported. Their indictment said they had attacked riot police with bricks, sticks, and Molotov cocktails, destroyed government vehicles, and caused traffic jams.
During the protest, police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd, some of whom burned a dozen vehicles and damaged property at several government buildings.
Nguyen Cu, father of 19-year-old protester Nguyen Van Thuan who was sentenced to three and a half years in prison, said his son turned himself in to police and admitted to the court that he had hurled three or four rocks at officers.
He also told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that he could not afford a lawyer for his son because his family is poor.
“They [authorities] let us attend the trial,” he said. “The police previously came to my house and told me not to hire a lawyer because it would be a waste.”
Nguyen Cu added that none of the other defendants had attorneys.
In July, the Binh Thuan court sentenced six other protesters to up to two and a half years in prison on the same charges after finding them guilty of throwing rocks, bricks, and Molotov cocktails at riot police.
The protest was one of several held in cities and provinces around the country in early June to express public opposition to the proposed law that would grant 99-year leases for the economic zones to foreign investors.
Many feared that the leases would be snapped up by investors from neighboring China, with which Vietnam has had tense bilateral relations in recent years, in part due to territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Dozens of others who participated in demonstrations in other cities and provinces have already been sentenced or are awaiting sentencing.
Vietnamese authorities beat and arrested demonstrators who took part in what began as a peaceful protest in the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City, including an American citizen of Vietnamese descent who later released and deported.
Thousands of others in central Ha Tinh province, southern Binh Duong province, and the capital Hanoi demonstrated in opposition to the economic zone draft law.
Some of the demonstrations also focused on a recently-passed cybersecurity law that protesters said would limit free speech in one-party communist Vietnam, where dissent is rarely tolerated and public unrest is quickly suppressed.
Following the protests, the government postponed the passage of the bill until more research on it could be conducted.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.