An appellate court in Vietnam Tuesday upheld the sentences of six land-rights activists involved in a deadly clash with police last year at the Dong Tam commune outside the capital Hanoi, local media reported.
In the Jan. 9, 2020 early-morning 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, village elder Le Dinh Kinh, 84, and three officers were killed.
During the appellate trial the procuracy recommended that sentences conferred by the lower court in September be upheld, including two death sentences for Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc, sons of Le Dinh Kinh.
The procuracy explained that the six had committed extremely dangerous acts that endangered other people’s lives.
RFA reported Monday, the first day of the appellate trial, that lawyers for the six defendants were repeatedly obstructed during the trial.
Violations of due process by the three-judge panel hearing the case included barring one lawyer from conferring with his client and stopping lines of questioning into sensitive aspects of the case, lawyers told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
Le Dinh Cong, one of the two defendants sentenced to death at trial last year, during Monday’s session, changed his appeal from asking for a reduction in his sentence to asserting his complete innocence in the case, saying he had thrown petrol bombs only to frighten police and not to kill them, state media said.
He said there were no meetings aimed at opposing the police between Jan. 6 to Jan. 8, 2020. He also denied any involvement in the deaths of the three officers who are said to have died after being burnt during the attack.
During the trial, lawyer Le Hoa also confirmed that Cong was originally planning to plead innocent but due to his confinement at a detention center, he was unable to file his innocent plea and had no choice but to write a petition to ask for penalty mitigation.
Another defendant, Bui Thi Noi, the adopted daughter of Le Dinh Kinh, asked five times during Monday’s session if the Vietnamese Communist Party kills itself when it kills Vietnamese people. She received no response.
In the lower court, Noi was sentenced 6 years in prison on charges of resisting an officer on duty, one year higher than the verdict proposed by the procuracy. The stiffer sentence is believed to have been due to her demeanor during that trial.
“Why didn’t you enforce the existing laws? Why didn’t you arrest my father in a decent and transparent way instead of luring him to the paddy rice field and breaking his leg?” she said in the lower court.
Her lawyer Dang Dinh Manh told RFA Monday that Noi “seems to have had a hard life.”
“Although her schooling was not sufficient to help her write an appeal petition and she had to ask her prison inmate to help out, she’s always been an unpredictable factor in her trial,” said Manh.
Referring to her outbursts, Manh said that it could be easy to mistake Noi for the presiding judge due to her tone and demeanor.
“Among the six defendants, the escorts were most tired of her. But perhaps, she also made them laugh the most,” he said.
The six defendants were among a group of 29 villagers tried for their roles in the Dong Tam incident. Other punishments handed out by the court included a life sentence and other sentences ranging from six years to 15 months of probation.
In a statement Monday, Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson voiced serious concerns over the prospects of a fair trial for the six Dong Tam villagers appealing their sentences.
“Vietnam’s courts are far from independent, and predetermined outcomes dictated by the ruling communist party are still trademarks of the country’s so-called ‘justice system,’” Robertson said.
“There are still many unanswered questions about what happened during the Dong Tam raid that authorities have never been willing to clarify.”
“We are also deeply troubled by the information brought out in the defense lawyers’ report, stating that police used torture on some defendants to force them to confess, raising fundamental concerns about the fairness of the entire trial,” Robertson said.
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.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Chau Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.