Sunday, October 10, 2010

A low key protest by banned group in Hanoi

UPDATE - Monday 08:00 - Viet Tan says that the Australian Vietnamese woman mentioned below, who seemed to be leading the protest, was arrested on Sunday evening. I have no independent confirmation of this. There is now a DPA story on the arrest.

Yesterday, I observed a protest in Hanoi by the banned Viet Tan group - or Vietnam Reform Party - which was low key in terms of the number of participants and the immediate police response.

A handful of overseas Vietnamese Viet Tan members gave out t-shirts and caps in a central Hanoi park, while calling on the government to stand up to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. (See reports by DPA, the German press agency, and AP)

There were several dozen local onlookers but it was unclear who were supporters of Viet Tan and who were simply bemused Hanoians - it's not everyday that you see political protests in a country where little dissent is tolerated. For obvious reasons, Hong Vu, the Australian Vietnamese who seemed to be doing most of the talking, was reluctant to say how many local supporters were present.

The Vietnamese government calls the US-based group a terrorist organisation, although Viet Tan insists it only believes in promoting peaceful change.

Although the surrounding area was amply supplied with police - the protest took place just behind one of the main stages were Hanoi's millennial celebrations have been taking place - there was no immediate reaction.

Once the blue t-shirt-clad Viet Tan members had headed off in a hurry and the small crowd has dispersed, a policeman did come around looking to confiscate some of the t-shirts they had given out.

Apparently, a similar unauthorised Viet Tan event earlier this year, when overseas Vietnamese gave out t-shirts and caps to an obliging Vietnamese public (if only because they like free gear rather than because they share the political messages), was also met with a relatively hands-off response.

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