Authorities in Vietnam have yet to set a trial date for two land rights activists detained more than a year ago for their criticism of the government in a high-profile land dispute, members of their family told RFA.
Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam, of the capital Hanoi’s Duong Noi district, were arrested June 24, 2020 on charges of propagandizing against the state for posting online articles and livestreaming videos critical of the government’s brutal response to a long-running dispute over a military airport construction site about 25 miles south of the city.
Phuong’s mother Can Thi Theu and brother Trinh Ba Tu were also arrested that day on the same charges and sentenced on May 5 to eight years in prison and three years on probation each on the charge of “creating, storing, disseminating anti-State materials.”
Phuong and Tam remain in pre-trial detention.
“My husband’s lawyer Luan Le met him on July 20, and told me Phuong was healthy,” Do Thi Thu, wife of Trinh Ba Phuong, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Wednesday.
“The lawyer also said that my husband had maintained his right to silence from the time he was arrested until speaking with him,” she said.
The family has not received any information about the schedule of Phuong’s trial, though Hanoi Police concluded investigation into his case on June 15.
Phuong and Tam were both arrested by Hanoi Police for “disseminating anti-State materials.” Tam’s family told RFA that she had also met with her lawyer, but they have no information on her trial date either.
Trinh Thu Thao, the daughter of Can Thi Theu, told RFA that Theu and her son Trinh Ba Tu are still in solitary confinement at a detention center in nearby Hoa Binh province. RFA previously reported that Thao had learned they were placed in solitary confinement about two weeks ago.
The report also said that the mother and son have also been refused family visits since their trial, but authorities did not explain why.
Lawyers for the mother and son visited the detention center on July 8, where staff told them that their solitary confinement was in accordance with orders from the Sentence Enforcement Department.
Can Thi Theu has been imprisoned twice previously, in 2014 and in 2016, for opposing the government’s transfer of land in Duong Noi to private companies.
Dong Tam incident
On Jan. 9, 2020, around 3,000 security officers conducted a raid on Dong Tam commune’s Hoanh hamlet to intervene in a long-running dispute over a military airport construction site about 25 miles south of Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi.
Dong Tam village elder Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was shot and killed by police during the operation, and Kinh’s sons Le Dinh Chuc and Le Dinh Cong were sentenced to death on Sept. 14, 2020 in connection with the deaths of three police officers who were also killed in the clash.
In an earlier flare up of the Dong Tam dispute that goes back to 1980, farmers detained 38 police officers and local officials during a weeklong standoff in April 2017. Three months later, the Hanoi Inspectorate rejected the farmer’s claims that 47 hectares (116 acres) of their farmland was seized for the military-run Viettel Group—Vietnam’s largest mobile phone operator—without adequate compensation.
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.
International organizations have voiced concern about the Dong Tam case, calling on the Vietnamese government to hold an independent and transparent investigation.
According to Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), state media in Vietnam is highly restricted, leaving bloggers and independent journalists as “the only sources of independently reported information” in the country, despite being subjected to “ever-harsher forms of persecution.”
Measures taken against them now include assaults by plainclothes police, RSF said in its 2021 Press Freedoms Index, which placed Vietnam at 175 out of 180 countries surveyed worldwide, a ranking unchanged from last year.
“To justify jailing them, the Party resorts to the criminal codes, especially three articles under which ‘activities aimed at overthrowing the government,’ ‘anti-state propaganda’ and ‘abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to threaten the interests of the state’ are punishable by long prison terms,” the rights group said.
Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress in January. But arrests continue in 2021.