Authorities in Vietnam froze the bank account of an activist last week after she collected donations for the family of a village leader killed by police in a deadly clash over land rights outside Hanoi earlier this month.
Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was killed on Jan. 9 as farmers in Hanoi’s Dong Tam commune threw grenades and petrol bombs at police in the latest flare-up of a long-running dispute over a military airport construction site near the capital.
Police attacked first in the deadly clash that claimed the lives of the elderly community leader and three police officers, though, a report drawn from witness accounts and released last week by journalists and activists says, contradicting official accounts.
Speaking on Tuesday to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, Nguyen Thuy Hanh said that her account containing 500 million dong (U.S. $22,000) was frozen by the Commercial Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam, also called the Vietcombank, on Jan. 17.
The sizeable balance consisted of contributions from about 700 individuals offering their condolences and support to the family of Le Dinh Kinh, she said, adding that she learned three days later that her account had been frozen.
“I asked them why they had blocked my account, and they said that they had done it at the request of higher authorities,” Nguyen said.
After leaving the bank, she was stopped about a kilometer away by uniformed police who took her to the investigation department of the Ministry of Public Security for questioning, she said.
“The police asked me about my bank account, wanting to know if I had ever met Le Dinh Kinh or if I knew any of the individuals who sent money for his family to my account,” she said, adding,“I told them that I didn’t know them.”
“How could I possibly make the acquaintance of over 700 people?” she asked.
After questioning Nguyen for an hour, they told her to sign a document, which she refused to do. Then they let her go, she said.
'We only wanted to help'
Also speaking to RFA, Chieu Anh Nguyen—one of the contributors to Nguyen’s account—said that she had sent in 10 million dong ($500), of which 5 million dong had come from former political prisoner Nguyen Dang Minh Man, to help support Le’s family.
“We had only hoped to support Le’s family and had no other reasons for doing this,” Chieu said. “We were shocked when we heard the police had said the money was sent in to support ‘terrorist acts.’”
It is unacceptable that Vietnamese security officials should control the operations of the Vietcombank, she said.
Meanwhile, Hanoi-based attorney Hoang Cao Sang told RFA that Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security should not freeze individual accounts at a bank without providing documented proof of violations.
“If any bank closes an account without legitimate reasons, the account holder can sue the bank to have that account re-opened,” he said.
In a Jan. 20 statement, the banned U.S.-based Viet Tan opposition party voiced its support for the families of “the victims of Dong Tam” and its concern for the 22 commune residents now held by police on charges of "murder" and "obstructing law enforcement officers."
“We anticipate that the Ministry of Public Security will continue to launch campaigns and attacks targeted at those speaking up against the regime,” Viet Tan said, adding, “[We] call on the international community to demand a transparent and impartial investigation of the [Dong Tam] incident.”
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huynh Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.