Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for September 14-20, 2020: Vietnam Meets Strong Protest after Sentencing Two Dong Tam Land Petitioners to Death



Defend the Defenders | September 20, 2020


On Monday (September 14), the People’s Court of Hanoi announced its verdict against 29 Dong Tam land petitioners after five working days instead of planned ten days. It convicted six land petitioners of “murder” and the remaining 23 of “resisting on-duty state officials.” The court sentenced two sons of brutally-killed communal leader Le Dinh Kinh named Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc to death, his grandchild Le Dinh Doanh to life imprisonment, and three others to between 12 years and 16 years in prison for murder allegation. For those convicted of “resisting on-duty state officials,” the court gave sentences from 15 months of probation to six years in prison.

After the court announced its final decision, a number of international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and domestic independent civil groups as well as thousands of individuals have voiced their protest and anger to the communist regime in Hanoi.

On September 16, Defend the Defenders and the Vietnam Human Rights Network issued a joint statement to slam the court, requesting Vietnam’s communist regime to release all the 29 land petitioners and investigate those who organized and carried out the brutal raid in Dong Tam commune on January 9, 2020 in which they shot Mr. Kinh to death without a court’s decision, and investigate the torture and corporal punishment against detainees during the pre-trial detention.

Two days later, European Union Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Nabila Massrali issued a press release to condemn the use of the death penalty and call on Vietnam for the rule of law and for the full right to a fair trial, as stipulated in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam is a signatory party.

On September 17, security forces in Hanoi detained local prominent dissident Dr. Nguyen Quang A for several hours in a bid to block him from meeting with US Ambassador Danial Kritenbrink. This is the 18th blockade of Vietnam’s police against him in recent years.

Vietnam’s communist regime continues to suppress Facebookers from exercising their opinions on the biggest social network by arresting two residents Le Van Hai and Quach Duy and charged them with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code. Mr. Hai, 56, is a land petitioner while Mr. Duy, 38, is a state official working in the Office of the People’s Committee in Ho Chi Minh City. Both were accused of posting articles on Facebook with the content defaming state leaders and local officials.

===== September 14 =====

Two Get Death as Dong Tam Violent Land Dispute Trial Ends in Vietnam

RFA: A court in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi on Monday sentenced two defendants to death, also handing down a life sentence and other sentences ranging from six years to 15-months’ probation, in the trial of 29 villagers over a deadly land-rights clash in January at the Dong Tam commune.

Brothers Le Dinh Chuc and Le Dinh Cong, both sentenced to death, had been charged with murder in the deaths of three police officers who were killed in the Jan. 9 clash when they were attacked by petrol bombs and fell into a concrete shaft while running between two houses.

Their father, Dong Tam village elder Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was also killed during the early-morning raid on the village by 3,000 security officers intervening in a long-running dispute over a  military airport construction site about 25 miles south of the capital.

Le Dinh Cong’s son Le Dinh Doanh was sentenced on Monday to life in prison, while another defendant, Bui Viet Hieu, was given a 16-year prison term and Nguyen Quoc Tien and Nguyen Van Tuyen were handed 12 and 13-year terms respectively.

Others received prison terms of five and six years, and 17 received suspended sentences, with 13 of that group released by the court, sources told RFA’s Vietnamese Service at the end of the trial, which began on Sept. 7 and ended last Thursday, with sentencing postponed till today.

Nguyen Thi Duyen—niece-in-law of village leader Le Dinh Kinh, who was shot and killed by police during the raid—told RFA on Monday that she was not surprised by the outcome of the trial, saying, “I had prepared myself for the worst.”

“Certainly, [the Vietnamese court and police] would have done all they could to ensure that the Dong Tam residents would have to endure long terms in jail,” she said.

‘As I said in court there were four deaths to be accounted for in this case,” added defense attorney Nguyen Van Mieng, also speaking to RFA. “Therefore, the court really needed to investigate and closely check what happened in all of those deaths.”

“There was never enough evidence to charge Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc with murder,” Nguyen added.

Calls for witnesses rejected

At the trial, presiding judge Truong Viet Toan had rejected defense requests to summon as witnesses Hanoi chairman Nguyen Duc Chung—now held under detention in an unrelated corruption investigation—and representatives of the Ministry of Defense and Hanoi’s Public Security Department, saying these officials were not relevant to the case.

Slain village elder Le Dinh Kinh’s widow Du Thi Thanh, mother of the two men sentenced to death, was also not allowed to appear as a witness in court, sources close to the trial said.

On Monday, Du filed a petition with senior Vietnamese leaders, including Vietnam’s prime minister and the Minister of Police, denouncing Public Security Ministry spokesman To An Xo, who had referred in a recent statement to Le Dinh Kinh as a “new type of wicked landlord.”

Before he was shot and killed by police, Le had never been prosecuted for any crime and had no criminal record, Du said in her petition, demanding that Vietnamese leaders hold To accountable for slandering her husband’s memory.

Reached for comment on the trial, Hanoi-based dissident activist Nguyen Quang A slammed Monday’s sentences, calling Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party “deaf and blind” to justice. “The Vietnamese government always just imposes its will, resulting in atrocities and inhumane acts against [the country’s] people,” he said.

‘No surprise’

“The heavy sentences against the Dong Tam defendants, including the death sentence against two persons, come as no surprise,” added Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch in a statement Monday.

“Vietnam’s rulers are bending over backwards to show their toughest possible face against the Dong Tam villagers because they worry this community’s defiance could be contagious unless the defendants are hit with the most severe penalties,” Robertson said.

“With the ruling communist party’s national congress just a few months away, there was never a possibility of anything but a rushed trial through a controlled court that would throw the book at these defendants.”

Carl Thayer, an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia, meanwhile called the Dong Tam raid and resulting trial “a culmination of 40 years of problems with land” in Vietnam.

“Trials in Vietnam are not free and fair as we understand them,” Thayer said. “It’s not rule of law. It’s ruled by law. The political decision is: you either put them on trial or you don’t. And if you’re putting them on trial, you’re predetermining [the outcome].”

While all land in Vietnam is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint as residents accuse the government of pushing small landholders aside in favor of lucrative real estate projects, and of paying too little in compensation to farming families displaced by development.

===== September 16 =====

Statement of Vietnam Human Rights Network and Defend the Defenders on the Conviction of 29 Land-Appropriation Victims from Dong Tam Commune

Press release, September 16, 2020: On September 14, 2020, the People’s Court of Hanoi, based on trumped-up charges, convicted 29 land-appropriation victims from Dong Tam Commune of “murder” and “resisting on-duty state officials” during the police raid in the locality in the early morning of January 9, 2020, which resulted in the murder of community leader Le Dinh Kinh by the police.

The court sentenced to death Le Dinh Kinh’s two sons, Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc. His grandchild Le Dinh Doanh was sentenced to life imprisonment. The court also handed out sentences ranging from 15-month probation to 16-year imprisonment to the remaining 26 defendants.

The first-instance hearing lasted only 4 days, from September 7 to September 10. The court failed to uphold international fair trial standards as it accepted the irrationalities and discrepancies in the Investigation Conclusion of the Hanoi Police Department and the Indictment of the People’s Procuracy of Hanoi. Furthermore, by rejecting many of the arguments and requests from the lawyers defending the victims, the court principally denied them of legal representation and self-defense while ignored allegations of torture, forced confessions, and corporal punishment of 19 defendants, etc. In addition, the court rejected the defense lawyers’ request to summon many important witnesses, state officials, and agencies involving in the case as well as denied their requests for field experiments/crime scene reenactment, a must in all the murder cases.

For the above-mentioned reasons, the Vietnam Human Rights Network and Defend the Defenders strongly oppose the verdict declared by the People’s Court of Hanoi. We request the Vietnamese authorities to:

– Immediately and unconditionally release all 29 Dong Tam land-appropriation victims, and drop all the charges against them as well as compensate them for being detained for the past nine months; 

– Conduct an independent investigation into allegations of torture of 19 Dong Tam land-appropriation victims and bring the perpetrators before the law;

– Conduct an independent investigation into the raid against Dong Tam commune that was implemented on January 9, 2020;

– Conduct an independent investigation into the death of Le Dinh Kinh and hold responsible parties accountable;

– Conduct an independent investigation into the incident in which 3 police officers were said to have died in the raid;

– Amend the land law towards ensuring land ownership to prevent authorities at all levels from grabbing land from the people as it has happened across the country for many years.

The investigation must have the participation of independent international observers. The Hanoi Police Department and the Ministry of Public Security have to recuse themselves from the investigation because of their involvement in the raid, and the investigation results must be publicized widely in Vietnamese and English.

We urge the Vietnamese people and the international community to condemn the behaviors of the Vietnamese Communist regime in the Dong Tam case.

On behalf of the Vietnam Human Rights Network: Nguyen Ba Tung, DPA, Executive Director.

On behalf of Defend the Defenders: Vu Quoc Ngu, Director.

===== September 17 =====

Hanoi Police Detain Prominent Dissident Nguyen Quang A, Blocking Him from Going to Private Meeting with US Ambassador

Defend the Defenders: On September 17, Hanoi security forces detained prominent dissident Nguyen Quang A for several hours in a bid to prevent him from meeting with US Ambassador in Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink.

Dr. A, who is the head of the unregistered group Vietnam Civil Society, said the American Ambassador invited him to a coffee meeting in his private residence in Hanoi at 3.30 pm on Thursday. He planned to leave his house early to go to a bank before heading to the meeting. However, when he tried to go at 2 pm, he recognized a group of ten policemen staying near his house in Gia Lam district.

Realizing that the policemen were waiting for him, Dr. A intended to go back to his house to inform the diplomat about the police blockade, however, the policemen detained him and took him to a car, and the vehicle headed to the Ngoc Thuy ward police station, where he was held many times before.

Dr. A strongly protested the police’s move, saying his detention is illegal. He knows that their purpose is to block him from meeting with the US Ambassador but the police officers asked him about his posts on Facebook.

A told them that this detention is the 18th in recent years, and he will not answer any question from them. At 5.30 pm, the police released him.

Along with blocking Dr. A from going abroad, Vietnam’s security forces have detained him many times in a bid to prevent him from meeting with foreign diplomats from the EU and the US as well as other Western countries.

===== September 18 =====

Statement by the EU’s Spokesperson on two death sentences

On September 14, 2020, the Hanoi People’s Court handed down death sentences to defendants Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc over their involvement in the tragic confrontation between civilians and security forces at Dong Tam commune on  January 9, 2020.

The European Union is opposed to the use of capital punishment in all forms and under all circumstances and consistently calls for its universal abolition. The death penalty is cruel and inhumane and its abolition is essential to protect every person’s right to life. There is a large and growing consensus in the world against the use of the death penalty. The EU urges Vietnam to adopt a moratorium on its use, as the first step towards abolition.

Reports about the conditions and proceedings of the trial also raise serious concerns. The EU and its Member States strongly advocate for the rule of law and for the full right to a fair trial, as stipulated in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam is a signatory party


Land Petitioner Le Van Hai Arrested, Charged with “Abusing Democratic Freedom”

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s state-controlled media has reported that on September 18, authorities in the central province of Binh Dinh arrested local land petitioner Le Van Hai on the allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the country’s Criminal Code.

Accordingly, Mr. Hai was said to use his Facebook account to share his opinions on land issues, particularly the local authorities’ grabbing his family’s land, and defame the regime’s leadership.

Along with detaining Mr. Hai, the local police also conducted a house search. He will be held at least two months for investigation and faces imprisonment of between two years and seven years in prison if he is convicted.

According to the local police’s information, since 2016, Mr. Hai has posted and shared numerous articles considered by the local authorities as having the content distorting the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam, the Government, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the Government Inspectorate, and the chairman of the Binh Dinh province’s People’s Committee.

Thanh Nien newspaper wrote Mr. Hai has sent his denunciations to the Binh Dinh province’s authorities to request proper compensation for his family’s land which was seized by the local authorities for building Quy Nhon City Water Treatment Facility. He has not agreed to the low compensation offered by the local authorities.

Also on September 18, authorities in Ho Chi Minh City arrested Mr. Quach Duy, an official of the city’s People’s Committee Office, and charged him with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code. The 38-year-old civil servant was accused of posting on his Facebook account a number of articles with the untrue content about the corruption of senior city officials.