Statement of Vietnam Human Rights Network and Defend the Defenders on the arrest
and prosecution of land rights defenders six months after Dong Tam incident
On June 25, 2020, Hanoi’s authorities announced the indictments against 29 land petitioners in the Dong Tam commune, My Duc district. One day earlier, security forces from Hanoi and Hoa Binh province arrested four human rights defenders Mrs. Can Thi Theu, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Tam, Mr. Trinh Ba Phuong, and Mr. Trinh Ba Tu and charged them with “conducting anti-state propaganda” due to their peaceful activities.
Back to January 9, 2020, around 3 am Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security and the Hanoi Police Department deployed thousands of riot policemen to the Dong Tam commune, My Duc district and attacked the private residence of 84-year-old community leader Mr. Le Dinh Kinh, who had led the local farmers in protecting Senh field against the My Duc district authorities’s plan to seize the land and give it to the military Viettel Group. During this attack, the police brutally shot Mr. Le Dinh Kinh. They later carried out an autopsy without consulting his family.
In addition, police detained Mr. Kinh’s wife, Mrs. Du Thi Thanh, beating her in a bid to force her to make a false statement over the conditions of his killing. Police also arrested dozens of Hoanh villagers, falsely accused them of trapping and burning to death three police officers during the attack, even though the police did not present witnesses and material evidence, including the corpses of the trio to prove the murders.
Before and after the bloody attack on Dong Tam, many activists in Duong Noi, especially former prisoner of conscience Can Thi Theu and her sons Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu, along with ex-prisoner of conscience Nguyen Thi Tam (Facebooker Tâm Dương Nội), strongly voiced their support for the land petitioners in Dong Tam. Their human rights documentation informed local residents and the international community, and denounced serious human rights violations by the Vietnamese authorities in this case. In response, civil society and international stakeholders called for an independent investigation but Vietnam to date has refused all calls for transparency and accountability.
Instead of investigating the attack on Dong Tam commune to determine responsibility for the event, including the killing of Le Dinh Kinh, the Vietnamese communist regime has retaliated human rights defenders who have demanded justice.
On June 24, Vietnamese authorities arrested Mrs. Can Thi Theu and her sons Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu, as well as Mrs. Nguyen Thi Tam, charging them with “conducting anti-state propaganda” in a bid to silence and intimidate support for the people of Dong Tam. The charge and detention are clearly a politically motivated reprisal for their defense of human rights.
At the same time, authorities announced they are prosecuting 25 Dong Tam residents earlier arrested for the deaths of the three police officers who died during the raid. Another 4 face charges of “resisting on-duty state officials." International due process and fair trial standards have not been met for the detainees.
Responding to the Vietnamese communist regime, Vietnam Human Rights Network and Human Rights Defenders state:
1 / The people of Dong Tam commune are engaged in a justifiable struggle to defend their right to land against the arbitrary land grabbing in the face of Hanoi authorities’ plans with Viettel Group.
2 / The mobilization of thousands of riot policemen to attack Dong Tam commune in the middle of the night raises serious concerns, and the death of Mr. Le Dinh Kinh was an extrajudicial killing under international law. Those who directed and implemented the raid bear command responsibility and must be investigated and punished according to the applicable law.
3 / The arrest and prosecution of 29 Dong Tam residents is unfounded and politically motivated as collective punishment served to intimidate other villagers against speaking out against lingering human rights abuses in Dong Tam. We demand the authorities remove these charges and release them immediately and unconditionally, investigate related credible reports of torture and coercion, as well as the apparent broadcast of the forced confessions by the four detainees on National TV on January 13.
4 / The arrest and prosecution of four human rights defenders in Duong Noi on June 24 amounts to arbitrary detention and reprisal for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression. We demand Hanoi authorities remove all charges against former prisoners of conscience Can Thi Theu and Nguyen Thi Tam and human rights defenders Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu, and release them immediately and unconditionally. Under international law, they are entitled to remedy for abuses suffered as part of this arbitrary detention.
We believe that failure to investigate those responsible for the Dong Tam incident and prosecution of the 29 local land petitioners with false allegations of "murder" and "resisting on-duty state officials” as well as arresting four human rights activists in Duong Noi with vague accusations of "propaganda against the state" are serious human rights abuses that violate both Vietnamese national law and the country’s binding commitments under international law. Vietnam has serious obligations to investigate these credible abuses and hold accountable those responsible. Failure to do so only further erodes the hallow excuses of the rule of law and shines a light on the criminality of the Vietnamese ruling Party.
We call on civil society organizations and individuals who love freedom and truth to speak out to demand justice for the victims mentioned above.
Made on July 07, 2020
Vietnam Human Rights Network: President Nguyen Ba Tung, DPA
Human Rights Defenders: President Vu Quoc Ngu