Vietnamese Land Rights Activists Set for Trial on Wednesday

Can Thi Theu and her son Trinh Ba Tu had posted articles about the deadly land-rights clash last year at Dong Tam commune, and had tried to raise awareness of the incident with foreign embassies and other international groups.
Vietnamese Land Rights Activists Set for Trial on Wednesday Vietnamese land-rights activist Can Thi Theu (right) is shown with her sons Trinh Ba Tu (left) and Trinh Ba Phuong (center) in an undated photo.

Vietnamese land rights activists Can Thi Theu and her son, Trinh Ba Tu, are scheduled for trial on Wednesday in the Hoa Binh People’s Court, with proceedings set to begin at 8:00 a.m., according to reports in state media.

A well-known activist in Hanoi, Theu was arrested on June 24, 2020 with her sons Trinh Ba Tu and Trinh Ba Phuong on charges of “creating, storing, and disseminating information, documents, items and publications opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

The three family members had been outspoken in social media postings about the Jan. 9, 2020 clash in Dong Tam commune in which 3,000 police stormed barricaded protesters’ homes at a construction site about 25 miles south of the capital, killing a village elder.

They had also offered information to foreign embassies and other international groups to try to raise awareness of the incident.

As of Monday evening, Trinh Ba Khiem—Theu’s husband and Tu’s father—had received no formal notice of his family members’ trial, Khiem told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on May 4.

Khiem had previously sent a petition to the court, asking when the trial would be held, he said, adding, “In response to my questions, they brazenly told me that they would not inform me when the trial would take place, and that I shouldn’t expect to receive an invitation to the trial.”

He said that he would try to attend and report on the trial in any case, and that four lawyers—Dang Dinh Manh, Le Van Luan, Pham Le Quyen, and Ngo Anh Tuan—are scheduled to represent his wife and son at their trial.

Speaking to RFA, attorney Manh said that Khiem may find himself banned from the court anyway, as the family members of defendants tried in political cases are often barred from entry. The lawyers on Theu’s and Tu’s defense team believe strongly that their clients are innocent, he added.

Article 117, under which the defendants were charged, denies political freedoms guaranteed under Vietnam’s own Constitution he said.

“In addition, this Article is also contrary to the United Nations Convention of Human Rights, and in accordance with Vietnam’s existing regulations, when a domestic law clashes with an international law that Vietnam has signed and approved, priority should be given to the international law.”

“Therefore, our clients should be seen as innocent,” he said.

'We will continue to fight'

Facing the possibility that his wife and son may now be put into prison, Khiem appeared to remain calm.

“The Hoa Binh Court said that my wife could face a sentence of up to 15 years, as she has committed these crimes before,” Khiem said, referring to sentences served by Theu following convictions in earlier land rights-cases.

“My family has anticipated this. We will continue to fight, and we will remain calm when verdicts are handed down by this cruel communist regime,” he said.

In a May 4 statement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Vietnam to immediately release Theu and her two sons and drop all charges against them, noting that the three have already been held in custody since June 2020.

Theu and her sons and husband Trinh Ba Khiem have engaged in numerous protests over land rights, human rights, and environmental protection over the last ten years, and have been repeatedly jailed and harassed by authorities for their activism, HRW said.

“Can Thi Theu and her family have been outspoken defenders of human rights in Vietnam,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for the New York-based rights group. “The Vietnamese government should be listening to people like this brave family, not throwing them in jail,” Sifton said.

While all land 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 farming families displaced by development.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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