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Protesters still in custody two weeks after Vietnamese road riot

The families of seven people arrested during clashes with police over the demolition of a road in Vietnam’s Nghe An province say they are desperate for information on the detainees, who have been held for nearly two weeks.

Hundreds of riot police descended on Binh Thuan parish in Nghi Thuan commune on July 13, where a similar number of protestors were trying to remove parts of a fence built around the road, which was handed over to a private company by the government to make way for an industrial zone.

The road connecting the parish to a main road has been used for more than 100 years.

Police tried to disperse the protesters with smoke grenades and explosives but the locals fought back.

Nge An provincial police issued a news release on July 13 saying locals “used bricks, stones, bottles, sticks [and petrol bombs], attacked and detained a police officer and injured five other police officers.”

Police arrested 10 people, releasing one woman the same night and two men three days later. The men claim they were beaten and threatened into signing confessions.

One woman, 72-year-old Bach Thi Hoa, was treated for her injuries in the district hospital, according to the two men who were released. She was accompanied by police at all times and her family were refused permission to see her.

Two protesters are being held at the Nghi Loc district detention center. The other four are at Nghi Kim detention center.

Police say they are collecting evidence to clarify their claims of “causing public disorders,” “resisting on-duty state officials” and “illegal detention.”

Nguyen Minh Duc, the husband of detainee Ha Thi Hien, said although the police issued an arrest warrant for his wife on the day of the riot he only received a copy a few days ago.

“They took the paper that day. They sent it the next day but the commune did not immediately give it to my family,” he told RFA.

Duc said other detainees’ families are also struggling to get information and meet daily to tell each other what they know.

Locals say they have heard from an unofficial source that Nghi Loc district police transferred two women to Nghi Kim detention center on July 21 when they no longer had the authority to hold them.

Article 118 of the Criminal Procedure Code states that a person can be held in custody for three days and the detention can only be extended for two further three-day periods.

If police want to hold someone for more than nine days they need the approval of the district or provincial procuracy to investigate further.

State and local media have remained silent on the story for the past week.

RFA called the leaders of the People’s Committees of Nghe An province and Nghi Loc district as well as the police agencies and the provincial and district procuracies but no one answered.