A court in Long An province in southern Vietnam on Friday rejected an appeal for the temporary release of a teenager serving a prison sentence for injuring police officers when they evicted his family from their home last year.
Authorities often let prisoners out of jail during the annual Tet holiday, the Vietnamese version of the Lunar New Year, so they can spend the most important celebration in country’s culture with their families. The holiday falls on Feb. 8 this year.
The provincial People’s Court rejected the appeal filed by the lawyer of Nguyen Mai Trung Tuan, who is serving a 4.5-year sentence for his involvement in blocking and injuring police who tried to evict his family from their home last April, his attorney Nguyen Van Mieng told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“After the urgent appeal, we appreciated the prompt response from the judge at the Long An court during this busy time of Tet,” he said. “However, the response was not what we had expected.”
The judge denied the request because Tuan had tried to escape after his case was submitted to the court, Mieng said.
Tuan had left home on April 29, 2015, to find work in Binh Thuan province on the south central coast of Vietnam, before the court issued a decision on his case on June 12. Besides the jail sentence, the court ordered Tuan to pay a 42.6 million dong (U.S. $1,880) fine.
“What the judge said was not correct,” Mieng said. “That was the only reason he had to reject the appeal.”
“When news of the rejection of the appeal was posted on Facebook, everybody was upset about the decision because the judge based it on an illegitimate reason and did not let a teenager have some time with his family during the most precious time of the year,’ he said.
“This separation violates children’s rights and precious feelings of the Vietnamese people on the first days of the Lunar New Year,” he said.
In the meantime, the court has postponed Tuan’s appeal trial without allowing him to apply for bail.
Thanh Hai Ngo, a Vietnamese senator from Canada’s Conservative Party who represents the province of Ontario, issued a statement on Friday, condemning the Long An court, saying that he was concerned about the “unreasonable trial process that followed the unfair arrest and harsh sentence” Tuan had received.
“The People’s Court of Long An province’s decision to further postpone Nguyen Mai Trung Tuan’s appeal trial without allowing him to apply for bail is another indication that the People’s Court system fails to follow its own proper procedures and respect the rights of a juvenile defendant,” he said.
Ngo called on international human rights agencies and the international community to challenge the court’s decision and take legal action to ensure Tuan’s immediate release, protect the rights of minors, and uphold the land ownership rights of Vietnamese citizens.
Police first arrested Tuan last April 14 along with his parents, Nguyen Trung Can and Mai Thi Kim Huong, at their home in Thach Hoa district, where they allegedly resisted and attacked authorities who were trying to forcibly evict them and take their farmland.
When the family refused to let police enter their home, a clash ensued, resulting in injuries on both sides in which several people were burned by acid.
Police arrested 12 people, including all family members and others at the scene who opposed their eviction, severely beating some of them. Tuan, who was 15 at the time, was later released because he was a minor.
Those who had witnessed the event did not cite a reason for the family’s eviction, although authorities in Vietnam frequently force people out of their homes to make way for development projects.
Vietnamese authorities arrested Tuan a second time last August, when about 10 plainclothes police officers apprehended him at his uncle’s home in Ninh Thuan province and turned him over to authorities at a detention center in Long An province, according to his sister Nguyen Mai Thao Vy.
Vy, the family’s only child who was not arrested, lives with an aunt. Tuan’s mother is serving a 3.5-year sentence, and his father a three-year sentence.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.