Vietnam to Try Land Right Activist amid Increasing Political Crackdown

Mrs. Can Thi Theu at a peaceful demonstration on April 8, 2016
Mrs. Can Thi Theu at a peaceful demonstration on April 8, 2016

[themify_box style=”blue comment rounded”]If proven guilty, Mrs. Theu will face imprisonment of up to two years in jail, according to the current law.[/themify_box]

By Vu Quoc Ngu, September 8, 2016

Vietnam’s communist government will try Hanoi-based land rights activist Can Thi Theu on charge of “causing public disorders” under Clause 1, Article 245 of the country’s Penal Code on September 20, said her lawyer Ha Huy Son.

If found guilty, Mrs. Theu will face imprisonment of up to two years, according to the current Penal Code.

Theu, who is a former prisoner of conscience, was arrested on June 10 in her private residence in the northern province of Hoa Binh by Hanoi police who said they arrested her for disturbing public order in Hanoi’s Dong Da district on April 8.

This is a trumped-up allegation against his mother, said her son Mr. Trinh Ba Phuong, who is also an activist for land rights and human rights. On April 8, Mrs. Theu and many other activists planned to hold a peaceful meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of the pro-democracy group Bloc 8406 and demand for the unconditional release of human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who was detained on December 16 last year on allegation of conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

On that day, Hanoi security forces violently suppressed the meeting and detained eight participants, including Theu. All detainees were released on the same day. (You can read about the event and the violent suppression of the Hanoi police here: https://vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/core_20150131-130254/2016/04/09/seven-vietnamese-activists-brutally-beaten-detained-while-talking-about-human-rights-democracy/)

Mrs. Theu is a former prisoner of conscience. On April 25, 2014, she was arrested while filming Hanoi’s land seizure in her village in Duong Noi commune in Ha Dong district. The city’s authorities took large areas of land from Duong Noi farmers, including Theu’s family, with very low compensation prices and gave the land to private investors for property development.

The land grabbing of Hanoi’s authorities has left hundreds of farmers in Theu’s village without production tools.

Two years ago, Theu was severely beaten by police upon the arrest. Later, the local authorities charged her with “resisting on-duty state officials” under Article 257 of the Penal Code and sentenced her to 15 months in prison. Her husband, Mr. Trinh Ba Tu, was also imprisoned for 15 months for the same charge.

After being released in July last year, she has actively participated in peaceful demonstrations to demand for land return, or in peaceful protests on environmental issues and against China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea). She was detained many times by Hanoi’s police, and sometimes severely beaten by police officers.

Some observers said her arrest is the start of a new wave of government suppression as the ruling communists assert their power under the new leadership.

Vietnam’s government has little tolerance for criticism and considers unregistered civil organizations as “reactionary groups.” The police forces have violently suppressed all spontaneous demonstrations which may challenge the government.

Vietnam has prioritized high growth rate of gross domestic products (GDP), giving many incentives for industrial and property developers. The government has seized large areas of land nationwide from local residents for industrial and property projects without paying adequate compensation.

Due to the government’s land grabbing policy, thousands of farmers have lost their cultivation land and houses. Many of them have come to government agencies in Hanoi to protest land seizure but their voices are hardly heard.

Land petitioners, who live in misery, have been subject to police torture.

In Vietnam, all land belongs to the state and local residents only have the right to use it, so the state can seize land for socio-economic development. In many cases, local authorities have abused the land policy, causing great dissatisfaction among local residents.

Last week, Amnesty International France, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organizations, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) and the French League for Human Rights (LDH) urged French President Francois Hollande to address human rights issues in talks with local leaders during his visit to Vietnam on September 5-7.

During his meetings with Vietnamese leaders, President Hollande was said to have asked Vietnam to release four jailed dissidents, according to AFP. The four are a Catholic dissident, a blogger, a land rights defender and an activist who tried to form an opposition movement, according to the source traveling with the president, the news agency said.

At least 130 prisoners of conscience are held in Vietnam’s prisons, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Since the beginning of this year, Vietnam has imprisoned 17, including prominent bloggers Nguyen Huu Vinh (Anh Ba Sam) and Nguyen Ngoc Gia, according to the statistics of Defend the Defenders.