A Vietnamese court on Wednesday ordered a local official jailed for more than two years for destroying the property of a farmer who was imprisoned for putting up an armed resistance against a state seizure of his fish farm, in a case highlighting public resentment over government land grabs.
In a rare admission of a botched government land seizure, four other officials received suspended sentences for their roles in the forced eviction last year in northern Vietnam’s Tien Lang district in Hai Phong.
Farmer Doan Van Vuon was sentenced last week to five years in jail for resisting the raid by security forces on his fish farm but was hailed as a local hero for standing up to the authorities on the land grab issue.
The authorities in Hai Phong have admitted their eviction was unlawful.
Vuon’s wife and a local aquaculture farmers’ group representative however expressed dissatisfaction over the sentences imposed by the Hai Phong People’s Court on the officials, saying some of them should have received harsher punishment.
Nguyen Van Kanh, former vice chairman of the Tien Lang People’s Committee, was handed a 30-month jail term by the court for “destroying the assets” of their farm in Tien Lang district.
Le Van Hien, former chairman of the Tien Lang district, received a suspended sentence of 15 months on a charge of “lack of responsibility, resulting in serious consequences,” and Pham Dang Hoan, former party secretary of Vinh Quang village, was handed the same sentence for “asset destruction.”
Pham Xuan Hoa, the former head of the district’s Resources and Environment Department, and Le Thanh Liem, former village chairman, were both handed suspended 24-month jail terms on charges of “asset destruction.”
Sentences 'not fair'
Vuon’s wife Nguyen Thi Thuong criticized the leniency of the sentences handed to the former officials and said the trial had been biased in their favor.
“This is not fair to our family. We will have to appeal,” Thuong told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Wednesday.
“I had already anticipated this scenario,” added Vu Van Luan, general secretary of the Tien Lang Aquatic Product Cultivation Association. “This is only a ‘drama’ that the Hai Phong leaders are performing.”
“When the verdicts were announced, I called [Le Thanh] Liem, the former chairman of Vinh Quang village,” said Luan.
“Liem laughed. We all heard Liem and [Le Van] Hien say that they had bribed the authorities who handled this case.”
“There was no justice in this trial, and it will definitely be appealed to a higher court,” Luan said, adding, “We want to see how the ministry of police, the supreme prosecutor’s office, and the supreme court handle this case.”
Luan said that his group has sent a letter to the court and prosecutor’s office, asking them to release Vuon and his family members and to compensate them for their losses suffered in the raid.
“Vuon’s action in that situation was self-defense according to criminal law. If our lawyers follow that approach, I believe the supreme court will order his release,” he said, referring to the pending appeal over the convictions.
On April 5, Vuon, his two brothers, and a nephew were ordered jailed up to five years in prison for using land mines and homemade shotguns to ward off the authorities sent to repossess their farm in January 2012.
Members of Vuon’s family say they were given 100 acres (about 40 hectares) of land by authorities in 1993 and built it from a nearly worthless lagoon into a successful seafood farm.
In 2009, authorities decided to take the land back without offering compensation.
Court President Pham Duc Tuyen said after their four-day trial that Vuon and his family members had “endangered people’s lives,” but he also said that the eviction in Hai Phon’s Tien Lang district had not been conducted “in accordance with the law.”
He added that the state had based the light sentences given to Vuon and his family members on “its lenient and humanitarian policy, contributing to stabilizing the political situation in the area.”
Vuon had received widespread support in Vietnam, where land rights are a contentious issue, and quickly came to be regarded as a folk hero.
Reported by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.