Vietnamese activists jailed last year following a deadly land-rights clash at the Dong Tam commune outside Hanoi will learn a court’s decision on their appeals of their sentences at a hearing on March 8, Vietnamese sources say.
Dong Tam village elder Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was killed during the early morning Jan. 9, 2020 raid on the village by 3,000 security officers intervening in a long-running dispute over a military construction site about 25 miles south of the capital, Hanoi.
Le’s sons, Le Dinh Chuc and Le Dinh Cong, were both sentenced to death on Sept. 14 for murder in connection with the deaths of three police officers who were killed in the clash when they were attacked with petrol bombs and fell into a concrete shaft while running between two houses.
They were among a group of 29 villagers tried for their roles in the incident. Other punishments handed out by the court included a life sentence and other sentences ranging from six years to 15-months of probation.
Family members were not informed in advance of the appeal hearing’s scheduled date, Bui Thi Minh—the daughter of Bui Viet Hieu, who is appealing his 16-year prison sentence—told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“No one received any notice about the Dong Tam appeal trial,” Bui said, adding, “We found out about it only because of the lawyers who met with [our family members] and then let us know.”
“We will definitely attend, even if we have to stand outside the court to learn what’s going on,” Bui said.
“We wish that none of the Dong Tam people had received such unjust verdicts, but it seems that these verdicts had already been determined ahead of time. Now we can rely only our hopes,” she said.
Also speaking to RFA, defense attorney Le Van Hoa, who will represent Bui Viet Hieu, Le Dinh Cong, and Le Dinh Chuc at the hearing on Monday, said that almost all of the lawyers have now met with their clients in the case.
“In the case of Cong and Hieu, I saw that they were in better shape—physically and psychologically—when I saw them last month than they were during their first trial. Other lawyers made similar comments after seeing their own clients,” he said.
Concerns over due process
Concerns remain over expected violations of due process in Monday’s hearing, though, said Sebastien Defayes, a Swiss parliamentarian who has been in close touch with lawyers representing the Dong Tam defendants.
“First of all, the police investigation [in the case] was carried out by exactly the same police department that committed the raid and stormed the village of Dong Tam, which is, to say the least, very problematic,” Defayes said.
Court officials have also not permitted defense attorneys to call important witnesses, including the wife and daughter-in-law of Le Dinh Kinh, and have refused to allow a reconstruction of events at the scene of the clash he said.
Reconstructions of events are often carried out even in minor cases such as those involving road accidents, Defayes said.
“So for a matter as serious as the Dong Tam [case], it is very stunning that the court has refused any reconstruction.”
While all land in Vietnam 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.