Hanoi Court Upholds 20-month Sentence for Land Right Activist, Many Relatives and Friends Detained near Courtroom

Land right activist Can Thi Theu at appeal hearing on Nov 30, 2016
Land right activist Can Thi Theu at appeal hearing on Nov 30, 2016

[themify_box style=”blue announcement rounded”]Lawyer Ha Huy Son, one of the lawyers of Mrs. Theu said the appeal court rejected the defending statement of his client, saying she is guilty of causing public disorders under Article 258 of the country’s Penal Code.[/themify_box]

By Defend the Defenders, November 30, 2016

On November 30, the People’s Court in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi rejected the appeal of local land right activist Can Thi Theu, upholding the lower court’s 20-month sentence given two months ago.

Lawyer Ha Huy Son, one of Mrs. Theu’s lawyers, said the appeal court rejected the defending statement of his client, saying she is guilty of causing public disorders under Article 258 of the country’s Penal Code.

The decision of the appeal court is injustice, the Hanoi-based lawyer said after the hearing which lasted a few hours.

Hanoi’s authorities deployed a large number of police officers, plainclothes agents and militia to block the areas near the court building to prevent Mrs. Theu’s relatives, local activists and land petitioners from attending the open hearing.

Two sons of the defendant, Trinh Ba Tu and Trinh Ba Phuong, and dozens of activists were taken to and detained at different police stations in the city from early morning when they tried to gather in areas near the courtroom. Police released them after the hearing ended. Mr. Tu said he was beaten by plainclothes agents upon the detention, and handcuffed and tortured by police officers in the Phuc Xa police station.

Many activists, including well-known blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy, former teachers Vu Manh Hung and Tran Thi Thao reported on social networks that they were barred by local authorities from going out during the day. Plainclothes agents stationed near their private residences since very early morning of Wednesday, they said.

Mrs. Theu became land petitioner ten years ago when authorities in Hanoi confiscated their cultivation land for property project development. She and other farmers in Duong Noi ward disagreed with the low compensation prices offered by the Ha Dong district’s authorities who later sold the grabbed land for much higher prices.

She and her husband Trinh Ba Khiem were arrested in 2014 while photographing the land seizure and later were imprisoned on charge of resisting on-duty state officials. After being released in July last year, she continued to lead Duong Noi farmers to hold peaceful street demonstrations to demand the return of their land.

She also attended many peaceful demonstrations to condemn police power abuse as well as participated in numerous events on environmental issues and human rights.

In order to suppress her family and intimidate other land petitioners, Hanoi’s authorities arrested her on June 10, charging her with causing public disorders. In the first trial on September 20, she was given 20 months imprisonment.

After the trial, many international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as well as domestic independent civil societies and local activists condemned the sentence, urging Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release her.

On the day of the appeal hearing, Deputy Director of Asia Division of Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson issued a statement saying “The only real justice that the Appeal Court could have provided for Can Thi Theu was to dismiss these bogus charges and immediately release her, but this being Vietnam and its kangaroo courts, there was never any possibility of that. Sending Can Thi Theu back to prison doesn’t change the fact peacefully protesting the unjust confiscation of land should not be considered a crime. The Vietnamese government should urgently amend the land law and its grievance processes to protect farmers’ rights, not to punish them for voicing their opinions and demanding action on their claims. After all, how can a farmer like Can Thi Theu survive if the land that she farms, which is the one thing that sustains her, is stripped away?”

Earlier this month, the U.S.-based Vietnam Human Rights Network honored Mrs. Theu with 2016 Human Rights Award, together with human rights lawyer Vo An Don, land right activist Tran Ngoc Anh and the Vietnam Blogger Network.

Earlier this year, Mrs. Theu is among 82 prisoners of conscience whom Amnesty International urged Vietnam to release unconditionally and immediately.