Trial for 29 in Vietnam’s Dong Tam Incident to Begin Sept. 7

dong-tam-trinh.jpg Four activists, three of whom are related, were arrested June 24, 2020 for discussing January's violent Dong Tam protests on Facebook. From left to right: Trinh Ba Tu, his mother Can Thi Theu, his brother Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam, who was arrested on the same charge.

UPDATED at 10:42 A.M. ET on 2020-08-28

A group of 29 Vietnamese detainees are set to face trial Sept. 7 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.

Three police officers were also killed in the deadly clash.

The Hanoi People’s Procuracy on June 25 released indictments on 25 of the detainees 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.

If convicted they could face a minimum of 12 years in prison or be given the death penalty.

Four others from the village were accused of obstructing officers in the performance of their duty, a charge that carries a jail sentence of between two and seven years.

Over 30 defense lawyers are expected to be present at the trial.

Hunger strike

Meanwhile, the family of Trinh Ba Tu, part of a separate group of Dong Tam-related detainees, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Tuesday that he began a hunger strike 20 days ago. The reason for his hunger strike was not immediately clear.

RFA previously reported that Trinh, his brother Trinh Ba Phuong, and mother Can Thi Theu were arrested June 24, 2020 for having been outspoken in social media postings about the Dong Tam clash. They had also openly offered information to embassies and other foreign figures to try to raise awareness of the incident.

Trinh Ba Tu is being held at the Cham Mat detention center in Hoa Binh province along with his mother, while his brother is detained in Hanoi’s No. 1 detention center.

“Someone I don’t know told me that they would help me send messages to my mother. I think they were police or staff at the detention camp,” said Trinh Thi Thao, Trinh Ba Tu’s older sister.

“They told me my mother’s health is still good, but Trinh Ba Tu has been on a hunger strike for 20 days,” she said.

RFA attempted to contact the detention camp for confirmation, but a police officer there told RFA he was not capable of providing information.

“Concerning this issue, we have sent an official dispatch to the family and the investigating organization. We are unable to provide or verify information,” the officer said.

“If you want to know any information you can come directly to the detention camp,” he said.

Decades-old dispute

In an earlier flare up of the Dong Tam 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.

Several international organizations have voiced concern about the Dong Tam case, calling on the Vietnamese government to be independent and transparent in their investigation.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this report incorrectly identified Trinh Ba Tu as among the 29 set to face trial on Sept. 7. Trinh and his family and Nguyen Thi Tam have not been charged with murder or opposing police on duty, and will be tried separately from the 29.

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