A Vietnamese court has ordered seven farmers jailed for up to 22 months on charges of disturbing public order after they resisted land grabs to make way for urban development projects in their village.
They were arrested in March and April in Duong Noi village, about 14 kilometers (8.6 miles) southwest of the capital Hanoi, for preventing police from enforcing the land seizures.
The court on Tuesday sentenced two of them -- Tran Van Mien and Tran Van Sang --- to 22 months and 20 months in prison, respectively, while the other five were sentenced to between six and 18 months in jail last week.
Tran Thu Nam, the lawyer who defended Mien and Sang, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that there were no legal grounds on which to charge them.
“The evidence in the file is the testimony of witnesses, but their words were all contradictory,” he said, adding that the jury did not accept his arguments when he pointed out the discrepancies.
“I think this is a case of injustice,” he said.
After the trial, Mien’s wife, Tran Van Nhan, told RFA that the prosecutor’s office said the court was not lenient towards the two farmers because they did not plead guilty or cooperate with the office.
She added that both men were in poor health because of beatings they had received while in custody.
Trinh Ba Phuong, the son of two of the five farmers sentenced last week, told RFA that 100 people, including democracy activists, had gathered Tuesday ahead of the court verdict to protest the arrest of “innocent people” and seek justice for Mien and Sang.
They were later transported by bus to a police station and confined there for several hours.
“The trial is supposed to be open to the public, but [authorities] dispersed us,” Phuong said.
During their trial, police blocked the road to the courthouse, sources told RFA. A very limited number of people, such as relatives of the defendants, were allowed into the courtroom.
The government started taking land in Duong Noi several years ago after farmers there refused to transfer their land rights to Nam Cuong Group, a Vietnamese company developing the area for a complex of residential and office buildings, hotels and schools.
The farmers say the land seizures were illegal and they weren’t compensated fairly.
Reported by An Nguyen for RFA's Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.