Vietnamese authorities in Kien Giang province have arrested a Khmer Krom minority family of six for their involvement in a violent confrontation during a forced eviction last month, relatives told RFA Tuesday.
After their arrest on Sunday, the six were questioned for several hours before five of them were released, while the last member of the family remains in custody.
Witnesses told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on May 11 that 10 farmers were injured May 5, as the police in Kien Giang province’s Phu My district confiscated digging vehicles, with police using batons and tear gas, and the Khmer Krom farmers hitting back with rods and throwing mud.
Video posted on Facebook documented the violence at Giang Thanh commune, which broke out when the police attempted to remove the digger belonging to the family of local Khmer Krom farmer Huynh Van Dat as he and other farmers were planting crops.
The government claims the land is part of a conservation area, but the Khmer Krom, ethnic Khmer native to what is now southern Vietnam, say they have been farming the paddies since the 1970s.
RFA could not reach the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh for comment Tuesday. There has been no comment on the case from the government in Hanoi.
Cambodia's Foreign Ministry spokesman Kuy Kuong also could not be reached for comment but he previously said that Cambodia can not interfere into Vietnamese affairs.
Huynh Thi Hau, one of the six Khmer Krom who were arrested on June 7, told RFA’s Khmer service that she and four others were released after being questioned about their involvement in the land dispute last month. She said that 50 riot police came to her house armed with electric batons, handcuffing her family and taking them to the police station.
Huynh was at the time carrying her baby, she said, but despite her pleas she too was handcuffed.
“They handcuffed my husband while he was lying on the ground. I was holding a baby only 1 ½ months old, but they pushed me to the ground and handcuffed me,” she said.
She said that her brother Huynh Dang Diep is still being detained.
According to Huynh Thi Hau, authorities accused them of revolting and encroaching on a government tract of land of about 3,000 hectares (11.6 square miles).
She said that police have not informed the family of her brother’s whereabouts. She said that her brother did not encroach on the land, but was hired to prepare rice paddies for cultivation by the other villagers.
Sonn Chang, a villager who hired Huynh Dang Diep, told RFA that the Huynh family was poor and did not have a claim on the land.
“[Huynh Dang Diep,] the villager who was arrested, did not have land. We hired him. The government should resolve the case with us instead,” he said.
Following the arrests, many villagers went to the police station to demand the release of the family, but authorities did not confirm their whereabouts.
Cambodian Rights groups respond
Several rights groups outside of Vietnam are engaging Vietnamese authorities to petition for Huynh’s release.
“We are planning to release petitions to the Vietnamese government to release the villager,” Son Chhum Chuon, secretary general of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association, told RFA.
The Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation, which is based in California, also called on the Vietnamese government to release Huynh.
The Federation’s Information Department Director Son Yoeng Ratana said he is shocked the Vietnamese government has failed to resolve land issue for the villagers and instead arrested them.
“[The situation] is very unjust for the Khmer Krom people,” he said.
“They are suffering because they lost their land and now Vietnamese authorities arrested them,” he said.
He said that the arrest is a tactic to scare other villagers from demanding the land back.
The Khmer Krom face serious restrictions of freedom of expression, assembly, association, information, and movement in Vietnam, according to U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.
The Vietnamese government has banned Khmer Krom human rights publications and tightly controls the practice of Theravada Buddhism by the minority group, which sees the religion as a foundation of their distinct culture and ethnic identity.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.