Hundreds of farmers gathered in the Vietnamese capital Thursday to demand the return of rice fields they say were confiscated by heavily armed police just days after receiving an eviction notice.
The farmers, from three different villages in Vietnam’s northern Hung Yen province, said they never received an offer for compensation for the 500 hectares (1,235 acres) of land from which they were forcibly removed on Wednesday.
A female farmer told RFA that protesters gathered early in the morning carrying placards outside of a municipal building in Hanoi, but that government officials refused to meet with them to hear their complaints.
“We are all residents of Hung Yen province. We departed at 8:30 a.m. with around 500 people to protest. We came to ask about our rice fields. We never agreed to sell, and the rice fields need to be returned to us,” the farmer said.
“We came to issue our complaints, but nobody ever offered to solve the problem. They avoided facing us—nobody would come out,” she said.
“Our slogans say, ‘We didn’t sell our rice land. Return it now!’”
Vuong Quang Hien, a resident of one of the villages in Van Giang district where the incident occurred, said he was angered that the government would resort to such measures to seize his land.
“They started taking the land. We received no compensation—not even a penny,” he said.
“The armed forces, military troops, and security personnel are supposed to protect the country. Why are they sent to destroy people’s houses?”
Villager Nguyen Thanh Thien said he had joined the protest in an effort to save his home, which was in the process of being razed.
“They’re using steel cable to pull down my house now. It’s very repressive,” he said.
“Against only one person they use a hundreds-strong force of police and security personnel armed with guns and tear gas.”
Vu Loi, a lawyer who joined the demonstration, called the land seizure “totally illegal.”
“The notice did not reach the victims until March 19, and by March 21 the land was already in the process of being confiscated,” he said.
“Land is only supposed to be confiscated 20 days after compensation money is handed to the occupants. This seizure occurred only two days after the notice—not the compensation—so it’s in violation of Item 32 of Rule 69 [of the land law].”
The protests follow a call from Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in February to revamp the country’s land management policies and a vow to punish corrupt local officials for their role in a high-profile land eviction case in Hai Phong city.
Farmer Doan Van Vuon is in jail for attacking security forces who came to repossess his farmland in the northern port city on Jan. 5, a case widely reported in the country's media, which is tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party.
But Prime Minister Dung, who has taken a personal interest in the case, called the repossession and forced eviction “illegal,” asking officials to expedite Vuon's trial and reduce the charges against him.
Dung also warned officials to ensure that evictions and land seizures are carried out "in strict accordance with the law."
All land in Vietnam belongs to the state, and people only have the right to use it. Land expropriation has been linked to several incidents of unrest in recent years.
In an annual report released earlier this month, the California-based Vietnam Human Rights Network, said the “violent means of [Vietnam’s] police state apparatus [were] strengthened and directed against the citizens,” in 2011 in an effort to restrain land petitioners’ gatherings and to put down resistance to forced evictions.
Reported by An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by Viet Long. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.