Nineteen defendants in a group of 29 land-rights protesters on trial in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi testified on Tuesday that they had been tortured by police during interrogations following their arrest over a deadly clash, with one saying he had been beaten with a rubber club for ten consecutive days.
The group faces charges of murder and obstruction for what prosecutors say was their role in a violent showdown over land rights that left three police officers and a protest leader dead in January at the Dong Tam commune outside Hanoi.
Dong Tam village elder Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was shot and killed by police during the early-morning Jan. 9 raid on the village by 3,000 security officers intervening in a long-running dispute over a military airport construction site about 25 miles south of the capital.
During questioning by lawyers on Tuesday, defense attorney Dang Dinh Manh disregarded attempts by the presiding judge to block him from raising questions, and asked the 29 villagers on trial to sit quietly if they had been tortured during interrogation, with the others told just to raise their hands.
“In response, 10 defendants raised their hands, indicating that the remaining 19 still sitting had been tortured by police,” Dang told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Wednesday.
One defendant, Le Dinh Cong, said he had been beaten with a rubber club every day during the interrogation period following his arrest, according to trial notes published by defense lawyer Ngo Anh Tuan on his Facebook page on Sept. 8.
Bui Viet Hieu, also on trial, said that the Dong Tam commune’s ownership of the land claimed by the military for its own use was beyond dispute, adding, “I was head of the [local] cooperative, and therefore I knew clearly that the 59.6 hectare parcel of land on Senh Field was agricultural land belonging to Dong Tam’s residents.”
Fencing built around the Mieu Mon airfield on Senh Field had already been put in place before the New Year, the 77-year-old Dong Tam resident said.
“So the [police] plan to ‘protect’ construction of the fencing was just an excuse to attack the Dong Tam residents and to silence those who knew the history of the land at Senh Field and how it really belonged to Dong Tam.”
Contrary statements made by Bui shown on video clips at the trial were coerced by police investigators, he said.
Defendants’ allegations of torture by police and testimony asserting Dong Tam’s right to the land claimed by the military were not reported in Vietnamese state media, which is tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party.
‘Bloodiest in ten years’
On Wednesday, the third day of the trial, the People’s Procuracy of Hanoi called for two death sentences in the case, one for defendant Le Dinh Cong and one for defendant Le Dinh Chuc, both accused of murder in the deaths of three police officers killed in the Jan. 9 clash.
Senior Lieutenant-Colonel Nguyen Huy Thinh, 48, Captain Pham Cong Huy, 27, and Senior Lieutenant Duong Duc Hoang Quan, 26, were posthumously awarded the Feat of Arms Order and certificates citing their “great contribution to the nation” for their role in the attack on the commune.
All three were killed in the assault when they were attacked by petrol bombs and fell into a concrete shaft when they ran between two houses, according to state media reports.
Prosecutors also called for one life sentence with other proposed sentences ranging from 18 months to as long as 16-18 years in prison in the case, which is being closely followed by international human rights groups who have pointed to what they call violations of due process in proceedings by the police and the court.
Official reports of the Jan. 9 police raid on Dong Tam said that villagers had assaulted police with grenades and petrol bombs, but a report drawn from witness accounts and released seven days later by journalists and activists said that police had attacked first during the deadly clash.
Police blocked off pathways and alleys during the attack and beat villagers “indiscriminately, including women and old people,” the report said, calling the assault “possibly the bloodiest land dispute in Vietnam in the last ten years.”
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 those whose land is taken.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.