Vietnam Police Call on Dong Tam Land Dispute Villagers to 'Turn Themselves In'

The call to residents to surrender to police breaks authorities' earlier pledge not to pursue charges against them.

Dong Tam villagers release detained police officers, April 22, 2017.

Police in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi called over the weekend for residents of Dong Tam commune involved in an April clash with authorities over land use to turn themselves in, despite promises made earlier that they would not be prosecuted, sources said.

The demand was circulated in a letter sent out on Oct. 13 and was followed up by calls issued over loudspeakers, one villager told RFA’s Vietnamese Service, adding that the move has only angered commune residents and strengthened their commitment to resist.

“People are asking for a dialogue, and not for calls to surrender to the police,” 82-year-old Le Dinh Kinh said.

“What crime have they committed for which they must turn themselves in?”

“People everywhere are unhappy with how the government is handling this situation,” he said. “They are not afraid, and many are saying they are ready to die [to protect their land].”

The April 15 standoff at Dong Tam, a commune in Hanoi's My Duc district, was sparked when police arrested several farmers for allegedly causing “social unrest” during a clash between authorities and commune residents over 116 acres of land claimed by the military-owned Viettel Group, a telecommunications company.

Kinh was among those taken into custody and injured in the initial arrests.

Other farmers responded by detaining 38 police officers and local officials, threatening to kill them if police moved against them again. But two days after the clash, police released some of the farmers they had arrested.

In return, the farmers freed 15 riot police, but continued to detain 20, while three others escaped.

The standoff ended on April 22 when the farmers freed the 20 officers and officials after the Mayor of Hanoi, Nguyen Duc Chung, pledged to investigate their complaints and not prosecute the villagers.

In July, government inspectors in Hanoi ruled that the disputed land should be administered by the military.

Broken promise

Though Chung had promised not to pursue charges against Dong Tam residents, the Hanoi police are now taking actions in violation of that pledge, Nguyen Quang A, a rights activist in Hanoi and close observer of the Dong Tam case, told RFA.

“Meanwhile, the police who beat Kinh and threw him into a truck to take him to the station won’t have to face any charges,” he said.

“In fact, it was the arrest of Kinh and the attempted land grab that caused the villagers to detain the 38 police officers who came to suppress the people.”

“People don’t know much about the law,” he said. “That’s why when Nguyen Duc Chung promised not to prosecute them, they believed him. But then the procuratorate decided to press charges, which broke Nguyen Duc Chung’s promise.”

“I think that the ultimate responsibility lies with the [ruling Vietnamese Communist] Party, because  they allowed Chung and the judiciary to say different things.”

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 those whose land is taken.

Many petitioners who seek justice and demand adequate compensation for their land have been beaten and imprisoned by authorities on allegations of causing public disorder under Article 245 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Richard Finney.