Vietnamese police broke up a rally in Hanoi on Sunday as demonstrators gathered in support of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s recent call for a new law on protests.
Around 30 people gathered to show their support for the proposal, which they hope would provide greater protections for the right to stage public demonstrations.
Police arrested at least 16 of the 30 demonstrators who had gathered near the Ly Thai Lo statue in a park near Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake.
“There were 16 to 17 protesters arrested and we don’t know where they have been taken,” said Ngo Duc Tho, a Hanoi professor and activist who took part in the rally.
“They broke up the protest. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to protest again. I think [the police] were very prepared for this,” he said.
“Early this morning, there were already a few buses, construction trucks, and police cars parked on the curb near the statue. The statue is where we went to protest, standing with flags and signs with slogans,” he explained.
Ta Tri Hai, a violinist and activist, was also among the demonstrators nearly arrested.
“They didn’t let me go near the monument so another protester and I sat down on the stone benches [nearby] and then the police arrested all the protesters. The police told me they would arrest me if I didn’t go home,” he said.
He said that police followed the demonstrators as they marched around the lake.
“For every protester, there were three or four police officers walking next to them,” he said.
Vietnam’s constitution allows for the right to demonstrate, but public demonstrations are rarely allowed, at least until recently.
Demonstrations in Hanoi — including a protest by Catholics in November and an 11-week series of anti-China protests sparked by a territorial dispute in June and July — have exposed gaps in the country’s legislation.
Analysts say some of the protests were purposely tolerated by the government because they helped express Hanoi’s displeasure with Beijing, although police clamped down on protesters after several weeks.
Last Friday, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung called for legislation on protests to protect “people’s rights to freedom and democracy under the constitution and law.”
In a speech to the National Assembly, he called for clearer rules on the issue, saying, “We do not have a demonstration law so it’s difficult for the people and for the administration.”
Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security is in the process of drafting a new law, local media have reported.
Reported by Mac Lam for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Cathy Nguyen. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.