Four Activists Detained for Advocating for Dong Tam Land Petitioners, Accused of “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda”

Four detained activists from Duong Noi, Hanoi


Defend the Defenders, June 26, 2020


On June 24, Vietnam’s security forces violently detained Hanoi-based four activists for their voicing to support land petitioners in Dong Tam commune, Hoai Duc district who were brutally suppressed by the communist regime in January this year.

According to a short video clip made by human rights defender Trinh Ba Phuong, a large number of uniformed and plainclothes policemen gathered near his private residence in the early hours of Wednesday. At around 5.30 am, police cut Internet connection in the area and used pliers to cut his house’s lock to break in and arrest him in the front of his wife who gave the birth of their second child four days ago.

Phuong’s mother, former prisoner of conscience Can Thi Theu and his younger brother Trinh Ba Tu were also detained by the police. Theu, who was imprisoned twice a total 35 months for objecting land grabbing, was arrested while staying in her daughter’s house in the northern province of Hoa Binh while Tu was detained in their agricultural field in the province.

Land petitioner and human rights defender Nguyen Thi Tam was the fourth victim of Vietnam’s persecution today. She was kidnaped by security forces while going to a local wet market. She was taken away while the police came to her private residence in Duong Noi village for house searching.

According to their families, the detainees as well as some of their relatives were beaten by police officers during their detention and house search, during which police confiscated a computer set and four cell phones from Mrs. Tam’s house and cell phones from Mrs. Theu and her sons. Police also informed that they also found some books printed by the unsanctioned publisher Liberal Publishing House led by prominent human rights defender and political blogger Pham Doan Trang in Mrs. Theu’s family houses.

All of them from Duong Noi village, Ha Dong district, Hanoi where the city’s authorities seized their agricultural land without paying adequate compensation. Theu and her husband Trinh Ba Khiem as well as Phuong, Tu, and Tam were active fighters for their land although they failed.

Later, the state-controlled media reported that all of them were charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code with the imprisonment of between seven and 12 years in prison but maybe up to 20 years in jail.

While Mr. Phuong and Mrs. Tam are held in the Temporary detention center No. 1 (Hoa Lo) under the authority of the Hanoi Police Department, Mrs. Theu and her son Mr. Tu are kept in the temporary detention center under the authority of Hoa Binh province’s Police Department. All of them will be held incommunicado during the investigation period which will last four months at least and may be extended to more than two years.

The detentions are likely related to the brutal massacre on January 9 when the Ministry of Public Security deployed thousands of riot policemen to Dong Tam commune to attack Hoanh villagers. Police killed 84-year-old communist member Le Dinh Kinh, the spiritual leader of the local land petitioners, and arrested nearly 30 people, including his two sons and two grandchildren.

Police said during the attack, three police officers were killed and blamed the local petitioners for their death although there are no solid shreds of evidence for their deaths and even no traces of their bodies.

In its investigation report released recently, the Hanoi Police Department proposed 25 detainees be prosecuted of murders and four others of “resisting on-duty state officials.”

Since the land dispute in Dong Tam commune started in 2017, the four activists have provided strong support for the local petitioners. Right after the massacre in early January this year, Phuong and Tam kept updating their posts about the case on their Facebook accounts. Phuong also met with US diplomat in Hanoi to report the case.

Two days after detaining the four activists, authorities in Hanoi publicized the indictments against 29 Dong Tam land petitioners, paving the way for the city’s People’s Court to hold the first-trial against them. Hard sentences are expected for them. Some sources that they have a plan to impose the death penalty for four of the defendants and lengthy sentences for the remaining.

Tam is a well-known strong woman in Duong Noi. She often criticized Hanoi police for persecuting her. In recent weeks, she made a number of online surveys about the communist regime’s policies and its senior officials.

It is worth noting that Facebooker Chung Hoang Chuong has convicted of “abusing democratic freedom” and sentenced to 18 months in prison for disseminating information about the police’s massacre in Dong Tam.

Along with recent detentions across the country, the arrests on Wednesday prove that the communist regime will apply all measures to crack down on the local dissent in a bid to ensure a “stable environment” for preparation of the 13th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam. It is likely that the police generals want to show their power after dozens of police and army generals have been imprisoned for fired for economic wrongdoings.