Vietnam upholds 20-month jail term for land grab protester

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

Reuters, November 30, 2016

A high-profile Vietnamese activist on Wednesday lost a bid to overturn a 20-month jail term for protesting against illegal land grabs, her lawyer said, after a judge upheld a lower court ruling that had outraged human rights groups.

Vietnam’s boom in real estate in recent years has spurred protests by small landowners evicted to make way for construction projects. Many say the evictions are illegal, with authorities paying inadequate compensation.

The Hanoi city court did not alter the prison sentence for Can Thi Theu, 54, lawyer Ha Huy Son told Reuters after the half-day hearing.

“The sentence remains unchanged,” Son said. It was not immediately clear if Theu planned to appeal against the verdict in a higher court.

Theu, who has been in jail since her arrest in June, appealed against the sentence handed down in September for leading protests outside government offices.

She had previously served a 15-month jail term, for opposing officials on duty, before being freed in July 2015.

Vietnam’s human rights record is in the spotlight, as it shows no sign of let-up in the jailing and intimidation of activists, bloggers and dissidents, despite an aggressive pursuit of closer economic and diplomatic ties with the West.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has called for Theu to be released immediately.

“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,” it said in a statement.