A Vietnamese court has rejected hundreds of lawsuits filed by fishermen who demanded more compensation from a Taiwanese-owned steel plant responsible for a devastating toxic leak, a leading activist said on Saturday.
In a rare case of civic action in authoritarian Vietnam, crowds of fishermen last month swamped a courthouse to file 506 lawsuits against Formosa Plastics Group (台塑集團), which is constructing a multibillion-dollar steel plant in Ha Tinh Province.
The conglomerate paid Vietnam’s government US$500 million after it was blamed of dumping waste that poisoned fish and decimated the local seafood industry earlier this year.
Local fishermen launched their lawsuits in an effort to wrest more money from Formosa and demand that it shut down the steel operation altogether.
However, Catholic priest Dang Huu Nam, who helped lead the plaintiffs, told reporters the court had returned more than 100 case files and that he was expecting more.
“We will look into why the files were returned, as the court did not say concretely, before deciding what moves to do next,” Nam said.
Judge Nguyen Van Thang was quoted in state-run media as saying that all 506 cases were returned.
The fishermen had asked for compensation of about US$2.5 million, but did not provide clear evidence of their losses, Phap Luat, an official legal news site, quoted the judge as saying.
Dead fish and other marine life began washing up on Vietnam’s central coast in April, hitting fishermen and triggering rounds of protests.
After weeks of obfuscation, the government laid blame on Formasa, which has a history of environmental scandals spanning the globe, and ordered the conglomerate to pay a US$500 million fine.
The government said it would this month start distributing the cash to affected fishermen and last month confirmed that payouts would range from US$130 to US$1,600 per person.
Thousands of Vietnamese protesters on Oct. 2 surrounded the steel plant, with some scaling its walls and holding signs demanding its closure.
Vietnam’s communist rulers tolerate little dissent, but anger over corruption and environmental degradation often spark significant protests.
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