January 9, 2021, is exactly a year since the Hanoi government sent forces of more than 3,000 riot policemen to attack Dong Tam commune, suburban Hanoi, killing 82-year-old communal leader Le Dinh Kinh, and arresting and probing 29 other land petitioners. Three police officers were said to have killed in the attack on January 9, 2020, according to the local authorities.
A woman in Mr. Kinh’s clan whose family has a relative arrested in this case told Radio Free Asia about the pain, loss, fear, and unjustness of herself, her family, and other Dong Tam land petitioners suffered for the past one year.
For this woman, those were the most terrible days of her life. They are always living in fear, being watched, and threatened. Updating the situation in Dong Tam commune these days, she said that nowadays because there is a land dispute between the clan’s church in the area and the commune authorities, the army is deployed back, almost like the time of preparing to attack the village last year. They are equipped with weapons, tornado cars, present in the village from before Christmas until now. According to her, perhaps that army will stay until January 9, the 1-year anniversary of the bloody attack. The purpose is identified to prevent strangers in places or the press pulls the news out.
Recounting the past year, she said that at first, she was horrified and panicked because relatives were arrested and killed. A few months later, there is the fear of being watched, where to go, what to do, and talks with others were monitored.
For that reason, people are not daring to interact much with strangers and the press:
“When the incident first happened, not only my own family but also in this commune everyone got panicked, cannot eat and sleep. It’s the same for families that don’t have relatives arrested. Last Lunar New Year festival of Tet, people did not even bother to turn on the lights and woke up on the 30th night. The whole commune is like that. Last Tet was very sad. Months later they were still watching, who reveals something they will catch. So for several months, it was still very confusing, where to go, as well as being monitored and tapped. No one thinks they are safe. She also had this post and was harassed. There are groups of sisters playing together, which are all families with people arrested in the case. The sisters were often sad, so they confided in each other, comforted each other to continue to do business, and raised the people in prison. Yet also being tracked and known.”
Everyone is vindicated to return is the happiest thing. If not, I still hope the government will reduce the sentence, so that no one in the family will be sentenced to death, no one must die.
She continued, after the incident on January 9, 2020, the land petitioners of Dong Tam village seemed helpless, afraid, and desperate. They did not think that the government could act like such a cruel action, they did not think that they had only fought for many years and received such dire consequences. Now, Kinh’s clan seems only to remain women and children. The pain is still there, but we still have to depend on each other to live, live together to comfort and protect each other, take turns working to visit and support the prisoners and their families and children too.
Looking forward to being proved innocent of conducting terrorism, killing people, and being reunited with her family is her family’s greatest wish:
“Everyone is vindicated to return is the happiest thing. If not, I still hope the government will reduce the sentence, so that no one in the family will be sentenced to death, no one must die. The family can also meet, see everyone.”
She said that because of the misreporting of the state-controlled media, in the eyes of many Vietnamese people, they do not fully understand the story, they think that the Dong Tam people are fierce and cruel people:
“I am too unjust. We did not kill anyone, but now we were guilty of murder. Where Dong Tam people go, outside, many people do not understand and say that our land petitioners are horrible, we terrorized and killed people, dare to do such things. Because the press is spreading, everyone thinks that the people of Đồng Tâm here are terrible. In fact, we are very gentle, even those who participated in the fight against corruption are very good.”
VTV is Vietnam’s National Television, which has free coverage throughout the country, has shown many documentaries that contain information that Dong Tam people think is not true. VTV documentary films refer to the plaintiffs and land disputes as “disruptors.” Typically the reports “Dong Tam: Causes from the degeneration and metamorphosis of some officials and party members,” “The public agrees with the results of the trial of the case in Dong Tam commune,” and ” The target group in Dong Tam planned to cause trouble in advance,” etc. The content of these films pushes all the charges against those who fight to keep the land, assuming that the results of the sentences are right and right.
What to hope for the appeal hearing, lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng, the defender of Mr. Bui Viet Hieu told Radio Free Asia that he is now working with the client, and only waiting until the date of the appeal hearing being scheduled.
“Attorneys went to the prison to meet with our clients to sign legal aid papers for detainees who intend to appeal. The attorneys were allowed to meet with the client after the first-instance hearing ended, it is in accordance with the Law of Procedure that 15 days after the trial, the defendant has the right to appeal. From that day until now, there has been no move from the appeal court. Actually, we just wait for the hearing’s decision. Now that we have a defense notice, we have the right to meet the clients.”
Mr. Mieng said it was impossible to predict how the appeal hearing would turn out. With the responsibility of the lawyer, he can only carefully prepare the content of the defense, but the final decision is the right of the court:
“I want at the coming appeal hearing to clarify the actions the defendants have appealed to in the first-instance hearing. Actually that night it was very chaotic, and the recorded things were only from the investigative agency, and what they said at the first-instance hearing and now the appeal, there will be other testimonies, and it is consistent with the evidence that the investigative agency has collected. The first-instance hearing did not clarify. So in the appeal hearing, they have to clarify those things. If the facts are clear and beneficial to the defendants, they can be considered to reduce the penalty for the defendants who appeal. Or the case cannot be resolved at the first-instance hearing, the appeal hearing may request cancellation of the first instance’s verdict and conduct re-investigation.”
Lawyer Le Van Hoa, who defended two people who were sentenced to death in the first-instance hearing, Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc, told RFA that he hoped that at the appeal hearing, the authorities would consider humanitarianism to have a “reasonable understanding” judgment, especially for 2 people who are sentenced to death.
The first-instance hearing against 29 Dong Tam land petitioners who were accused of “murder” and “resisting on-duty state officials” began on September 7, 2020. According to the initial announcement, the trial was scheduled to last 10 days but only after more than a week the court sentenced 29 people, including 2 death sentences, 1 life sentence, 12 prison sentences from 3 years to 16 years, and 14 sentences from 15 months to 3 years in suspended prison terms.