10 sentenced for protesting land grab

(VNRN) – Ten farmers protesting a local government’s unilateral confiscation of land were sentenced Apr 25 in Hanoi to prison terms ranging from 6 months to 5 years, even though the expropriation order has been found to violate the law.

More than a hundred other farmers came to  the trial but, as the Tuoi Tre newspaper reported, they were not allowed in. Their shouting from the gates could be heard inside the courtroom, the newspaper said.

One defendant, Dinh Van Chinh (Đinh Văn Chính), 44, was convicted of being the leader and sentenced to 5 years in prison. His wife Le Thi Thu (Lê Thị Thu), 38, and two other women, Trinh Thi Nhung (Trịnh Thị Nhung) and Dinh Thi Ha (Đinh Thị Hà), were sentenced to 12 months each, and the other six were given sentences from 6 months suspended sentence to 9 months in prison.

The case arose out of the 2008 decision by the government of My Duc district in Hanoi to confiscate farm land to hand over to six development projects. When local authorities proceeded to evict the farmers, Chinh and fellow farmers submitted a complaint to the city government of Hanoi claiming the land grab was illegal.

In 2011, the People’s Committee of Hanoi agreed with Chinh and the farmers that the district and village violated the laws in deciding to expropriate the land.

Armed with the city’s findings, Chinh and the farmers sued the local government in local court in My Duc distrct.

At that time, Chinh and his family began receiving death threats and his house was burned twice. The second time, the arsonists locked his door with a padlock before setting fire, but his neighbors put out the fire on time.

After the farmers sued the local government, Chinh’s family received messages like this one, threatening to infect their child with AIDS. Photo by Tuoi Tre.

Threats were made even made on the life of Chinh’s son. Signs were posted on the power pole outside his house with words, “You’ll go look for your son’s grave” and “Your son will get AIDS in school,” with the sign stabbed by a bloodied syringe.

Local police never acted on Chinh’s complaints, and the local court ruled against the farmers, on the grounds that procedural violations by the district government did not invalidate the land expropriation.

Chinh and the farmers were arrested in July 2013 when they brought a coffin and other obstacles to block a truck doing construction on one of the projects.

In court, Chinh said all he wanted was for the local government to follow the law. “If the government executed the project without illegalities, we would not have to suffer through the whole complaint process, the two of us would not be arrested, my child would not be abandoned, my 200 pigs would not die, my house would not be burned, I would not be threatened with HIV syringes.”

The prosecution, however, pinned their case on Chinh’s statement to his fellow farmers, “Without a written land expropriation order we must hold on to our land until the end. Don’t be afraid of death, if I die don’t bury me yet but put me in the coffin and bring me to the office of the national government so the government knows what’s happened.”

According to the People’s Procuracy, Chinh’s statement gave moral support to the rest of the farmers, making him guilty of “instigating, inducing, involving, inciting other persons” in resist persons in the performance of their official duties, in alleged violation of Article 257 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

The court agreed with the prosecution and convicted all ten defendants, with Chinh receiving the harshest sentence as the purported ringleader.

Not allowed to enter, the defendants' supporters shouted from the gates and could be heard in the courtroom.

Not allowed to enter, the defendants’ supporters shouted from the gates and could be heard in the courtroom.

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