Catholics face off against Dong Tam authorities in land rights dispute

Local officials plan to build a new cultural house on land claimed by the Church.


RFA | 2022.10.31

Another major land rights dispute is coming to a head on the site of a 2020 clash that left a popular local leader and three policemen dead in Vietnam’s Dong Tam.

According to the Facebook page Dong Tam-My Duc-Hanoi, authorities in the village, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Vietnamese capital, plan to build a new cultural house to stage events for locals.

There is already a cultural house on the land but authorities want to demolish it to make way for the new one.

However, parish priest Father Joseph Nguyen Van Thoan told RFA the site was classified as Church land in 1956. He said the documents state: "The provincial administrative committee agrees to grant the land to the parish church to use for worship and for monks to live and carry out religious work."

Local authorities occupied the land in 1972 and Father Thoan said there have been several attempts by the Church to secure its return.

“When Father Vien returned to the parish in 2012, he sent a petition to the local government to ask for the land to be given back,” he said.

“Since returning to the parish in 2018, I have submitted 12 petitions to the Hanoi city government to request the return of the land to the parish and to have enough outdoor religious space, but the government still hasn’t resolved the issue.”

A parishioner said the attempts to organize religious events on the land are often prevented by local authorities. Last year, parishioners set up a theater stage, statues and Christmas decorations but the authorities sent people to dismantle them.

The land rights issue in Dong Tam has been brewing for many years. The Vietnamese Air Force built an airport on 200 hectares (494 acres) close to Dong Tam and locals claim another 50 hectares (124 acres) was taken over by Hanoi authorities, who planned to sell it to the military-owned Viettel Group.

In 2020 about 3,000 policemen were sent to Dong Tam to put an end to protests over the land. Police shot and killed Dong Tam village elder and land rights campaigner Le Dinh Kinh and arrested 29 people for killing three policemen. There is still disagreement about the police deaths with some arguing they were shot accidentally by their colleagues. No bodies were produced as the police said they had been burned in a well by locals.

Two people received the death sentence and one was sentenced to life in prison for killing the policemen. Others received sentences ranging from six years to 15 months’ probation.

All land in Vietnam is owned by the state but there are often clashes between authorities and locals who are living on the land, farming it or using it for religious purposes.


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