Authorities in Vietnam indicted 25 people on murder-related charges for their involvement in a deadly clash over land rights that left three police officers and a protest leader dead, in January at the Dong Tam commune outside Hanoi.
Dong Tam village elder Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was shot and killed by police during the Jan. 9 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.
The Hanoi People’s Procuracy on Thursday released the indictments after a 20-day investigation, according to state media, accusing the slain man’s son Le Dinh Chuc, and grandsons Le Dinh Doanh and Le Dinh Uy of murder, with 22 more charged as being accomplices to murder.
In addition to Le Dinh Kinh, three police officers died in the police raid at Dong Tam in January.
If convicted they could face a minimum of 12 years or be given the death penalty.
Four others from the village were accused of obstructing officers in the performance of their duty, a charge which carries a jail sentence of between two and seven years.
Police said that the trial will begin soon due to the importance of the case.
Though official reports said that villagers had assaulted police with grenades and petrol bombs in the early morning raid, a report drawn from witness accounts and released seven days later by journalists and activists said that police had attacked first during the deadly clash.
Police blocked off pathways and alleys during the attack and beat villagers “indiscriminately, including women and old people,” the report said, calling the assault “possibly the bloodiest land dispute in Vietnam in the last ten years.”
In an earlier flare up of the dispute that goes back to 1980, farmers detained 38 police officers and local officials during a weeklong standoff in April 2017.
In July 2017, the Hanoi Inspectorate announced that after conducting a “comprehensive inspection,” it had determined that the site belongs to the military.
The inspectorate rejected the farmer’s claims that 47 hectares (116 acres) of their farmland was seized for the military-run Viettel Group—the country’s largest mobile phone operator—without adequately compensating them.
It acknowledged that the military had “made several mistakes in management” of the land, including allowing area residents to use it after a rental contract expired in 2012 and failing to relocate certain households before 1980, leading to illegal encroachment and construction.
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.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Eugene Whong.