Police Attacked First in Vietnam’s Dong Tam Clash, Witness Reports Say
RFA | 01-16-2020
attacked first in a deadly clash over a land dispute in Hanoi’s Dong Tam commune
on Jan. 9 that claimed the lives of an elderly community leader and three police
officers, a new report drawn from multiple witness reports says, contradicting
Released on Thursday and circulated to human rights organizations and foreign
embassies in Vietnam, the report, published in English and titled “Fighting Over
Senh Field: A Report on the Dong Tam Village Attack,” says that villagers fought
back only after being assaulted by police in the latest flare-up in years of
tensions over construction of a military airport near the capital.
State media reports quoting official statements by the Ministry of Public
Security say villagers first attacked police with grenades, petrol bombs, and
knives, but witnesses to the clash describe “thousands of police officers” first
bursting into the village firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
Police then blocked off pathways and alleys and beat villagers
“indiscriminately, including women and old people,” the report says, calling the
assault “possibly the bloodiest land dispute in Vietnam in the last ten years.”
“Witnesses describe ‘thousands of police officers rushing into the village’
using flash grenades, firing tear gas, shooting rubber bullets, blocking off all
pathways and alleys, and "beating villagers indiscriminately, including women
and old people,” the report says.
Village leader Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was shot and killed early in the assault by
police who swarmed his home after first cutting Dong Tam’s internet and
telephone lines before beginning their 4:00 a.m. assault, according to the
Journalist Pham Doan Trang, one of the founders of the Dong Tam Task Force of
activists and journalists who produced the report, noted in a Facebook post that
the group's report was released only seven days after the Jan. 9 attack despite
a clampdown by authorities on information coming from the area.
Social media crackdown
Meanwhile, in a statement on Thursday, human rights group Amnesty International
said that three activists have now been arrested in connection with social media
posts about the clash in Dong Tam, “while dozens of Facebook users say they
[have] experienced restrictions on their activity.”
“The Vietnamese government’s heavy-handed efforts to censor discussion of this
land dispute are the latest example of its campaign to assert control over
online content,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional
In its Jan. 16 statement, the rights group voiced fears for 22 Dong Tam
villagers now in police custody and facing charges of “resisting law enforcement
officers” and “murder.”
“Amnesty International has documented appalling detention conditions in Vietnam,
with evidence of prisoners being tortured and otherwise ill-treated, routinely
held incommunicado and in solitary confinement, kept in squalid conditions, and
denied medical care, clean water, and fresh air,” the rights group said.
Police officers honored
Meanwhile, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Public Security Minister
To Lam, and 500 police officers and other attendees paid tribute on Thursday to
the three police officers killed during the Jan. 9 assault on Dong Tam, state
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.”
All three were killed in the Dong Tham assault when they were attacked by petrol
bombs and fell into a concrete shaft as they ran between two houses, according
to state media reports.
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 Huynh Le. Written in
English by Richard Finney.