Hundreds of Vietnamese farmers protested Friday against a violent crackdown by a developer who allegedly sent armed men to prevent them from reclaiming their rice fields acquired for a satellite city project, demanding tougher charges against the attackers.
The farmers from Hung Yen province’s Van Giang district said they believed the authorities have failed to fully investigate the Feb. 10 incident in which the men shot and injured five farmers trying to reclaim land taken over for the EcoPark project on the edge of Hanoi.
Embroiled in one of Vietnam’s biggest land disputes, the farmers staged a protest outside the district police headquarters after they were informed that the men have been charged with “attempted injury” even though they had used their firearms openly.
They said they had been expecting attempted murder charges to be slapped on the men, who they claim were “thugs” hired by the EcoPark developer.
“We received the announcement about the case from the authorities. They changed the charge to ‘attempt to injure,’” one of the farmers told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“They fired at us. This was not attempt to merely injure,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Police spoke to the protesters and promised to fully investigate and to consider a more serious charge, he said.
“We told them what we think and they listened to us. The police said that they will investigate and if they find enough evidence that fits with what we told them then they will change the charge.”
The farmers say they have gone to the Ministry of Police and the Hung Yen provincial police to demand justice over their case but have received no response.
Two of the five injured were hospitalized after being shot with homemade weapons, according to the farmers.
Handmade guns, which often use compressed air to fire lead pellets, are not uncommon in Vietnam despite being banned, with people in rural areas using them to hunt, according to local reports.
Farmers in Van Giang have staged protests occasionally since the EcoPark project was launched five years ago, claiming that the government granted 500 hectares (1,200 acres) that they used as farmland to the developers without proper consultation or compensation.
In a larger crackdown in April 2012, police fired warning shots and tear gas while farmers resisted by throwing bricks, glass bottles, stones, and Molotov cocktails.
Land for the EcoPark project—a long-term urban planning scheme for Hanoi-- was confiscated in two stages in 2009 and 2012, but thousands of households refused to take compensation from the government, saying the amount offered was significantly lower than what they were owed.
Following the 2012 clash, residents submitted a complaint to the Van Giang People’s Court in May, suing the district chairman over their initial 2009 eviction.
In August that year, the court returned their complaint, saying it was refusing the case because there was not enough evidence.
In Vietnam, all land belongs to the state, with people having only the right to use it, and expropriation has been linked to several high-profile incidents of unrest.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.