A Vietnamese community leader killed last week in a clash with police over a land dispute in Hanoi’s Dong Tam commune had received support from “foreign sources,” a senior public security official said on Tuesday.
Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was killed on Jan. 9 as farmers at Dong Tam threw grenades and petrol bombs at police in the latest flare-up of the long-running dispute over a military airport construction site near the capital.
Three police officers were also killed during the clash, and another person was injured, state media said last week.
Speaking to reporters on Jan. 14, Deputy Minister for Public Security Luong Tam Quang said that police had been sent to Dong Tam on Jan. 9 because construction of an airport wall was expected to reach the Dong Senh area of the commune that day.
Security at Dong Tam had meanwhile “become complicated” following the establishment last year by Le Dinh Kinh and other residents of a “consensus group” of villagers who were opposed to the airport’s construction and had vowed to sacrifice themselves to block the work, he said.
Farmers in Dong Tam say the government is seizing 47 hectares (116 acres) of their farmland for the military-run Viettel Group—the country’s largest mobile phone operator—without adequately compensating them. The farmers say their families had tilled the land for generations and paid taxes and fees to the government.
When police approached the Hoanh village gate at Dong Tam, villagers threw petrol bombs, grenades, and knives at them, Luong said, adding that when Le Dinh Kinh was killed, he had already thrown one grenade which had failed to explode, and was holding another in his hand.
Dong Tam residents resisting construction had meanwhile received funds and encouragement from “opposition elements,” Luong said.
“Mr. Kinh and his sons and brothers had received money from opposition elements, and police seized many papers, including documents from foreign sources, at his house detailing the collecting and disbursement of money,” he said.
Luong did not say who the foreign or opposition supporters were or offer evidence to back the assertions.
Speaking on Jan. 14 to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, Dang Dinh Manh—a lawyer based in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City—said that by controlling all sources of news about last week’s attack, the Ministry of Public Security is trying to conceal information about Dong Tam from the public.
“When state governments hide the news, people will be suspicious of the sources of information posted by the government,” he said.
“The government should allow press organizations to come in and cover these events normally,” he said. “If they don’t, people will never know the truth about the Dong Tam tragedy.”
While authorities have accused villagers of violence, rights groups and activists have criticized heavy-handed action by police at Dong Tam and called for an independent investigation into whether officers used excessive force.
Security forces have now surrounded Dong Tam commune, controlling access and cutting off internet service to the area, social media sources said this week.
Tensions over the Mieu Mon military airport in Dong Tam, 25 miles south of Hanoi, had simmered for nearly three years.
In April 2017, police arrested several farmers for allegedly causing “social unrest” during a clash between authorities and Dong Tam residents over the 47 hectares of commune land taken by the government for military use.
Other farmers responded to the arrests by detaining 38 police officers and local officials, threatening to kill them if police moved against them,
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 to those whose land is taken.
Separately, the trial scheduled for Jan. 14 of eight members of the Hien Phap Group—a network of activists calling for rights to freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed by Vietnam’s constitution—has been postponed at the request of a defendant to allow a new witness to be called, sources said.
Speaking to RFA on Tuesday, attorney Nguyen Kha Thanh confirmed the postponement, adding, “I don’t know when the new trial will take place.”
“The verdicts may be harsh,” he said. “Two of the ladies, Hanh and Vang, are expected to receive sentences of from five to 15 years in accordance with Vietnamese law, while the others may receive shorter sentences.”
Hien Phap played a major role in calling for widespread protests that rocked Vietnamese cities in 2018 in opposition to a proposed cybersecurity law and a law granting concessions of land to Chinese businesses.
The eight members of the group awaiting trial—Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh, Hoang Thi Thu Vang, Doan Thi Hong, Do The Hoa, Ho Dinh Cuong, Tran Thanh Phuong, Ngo Van Dung, and Le Quy Loc—were arrested in early September 2018 after taking part in a Sept. 4 protest.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huynh Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.