Vietnam Appeals Court Upholds Conviction of ‘Folk Hero’ Farmer

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Doan Van Vuon (C) listens to his verdict at court in Hai Phong, April 5, 2013.
Doan Van Vuon (C) listens to his verdict at court in Hai Phong, April 5, 2013.

A Vietnamese appeals court on Wednesday upheld the conviction of a former soldier-turned farmer who was jailed for five years for putting up an armed fight against security forces who evicted him and his family from their farm in a high-profile case.

The Hai Phong Appeals Court in northern Vietnam also dismissed fish farmer Doan Van Vuon’s demand for compensation of 30 billion Vietnamese dong (U.S. $1.4 million) from the local authorities in Hai Phong’s Tien Lang district over the case, which had highlighted public resentment over government land grabs.

“We knew this would happen,” his wife Nguyen Thi Thuong told RFA’s Vietnamese Service. She could not attend the court hearing as she was ill and had asked her sister-in-law to represent her.

Vuon was ordered to pay 23 million dong (U.S. $1,090) in damages for losing the case.

Vuon, his two brothers, and a nephew had faced attempted murder charges after four policemen and two soldiers suffered serious injuries during the clash as they used land mines and homemade shotguns to ward off enforcement officers sent to repossess their farm in January 2012.

But the Hai Phong People’s Court delivered unexpectedly “lenient” sentences after convicting them in April last year, ordering Vuon, 50, to serve five years in jail along with his brother Doan Van Quy, while a third brother, Doan Van Sinh, received three-and-a-half years imprisonment and Sinh’s son Doan Van Ve was handed a two-year sentence.

Vuon's wife Thuong and Quy’s wife Pham Thi Bau Hien received suspended sentences of one-and-a-quarter years and one-and-a-half years respectively for protesting during the eviction

According to Vietnamese law, a conviction of attempted murder carries a minimum sentence of 12 years in prison and a maximum of the death penalty.

Court 'ignored' defense arguments

Vu Van Luan, vice-chairman of the Seafood Cultivation Association of Tien Lang, said Wednesday that he had argued in court on behalf of Vuon that the land eviction was illegal.

“Today, I tried to prove our case by quoting law and regulations with regards to land confiscation … However, due to political matters, they ignored everything and we have to accept that,” he told RFA.

Shortly after Vuon was sentenced last year, a court in Hai Phong ordered a local official jailed for more than two years for destroying his property and handed out suspended sentences to four other officials for their roles in the forced eviction, in a rare admission of a botched government land seizure.

The authorities in Hai Phong have admitted their eviction was unlawful.

Vuon had received widespread support in Vietnam, where land rights are a contentious issue, and became known as a sort of folk hero.

Vietnamese authorities can seize land for vaguely defined matters of “public interest,” though that can also lead to local officials cashing in on lucrative development projects at the expense of poor farmers.

Even Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung had termed the eviction “illegal” and vowed to prosecute corrupt local leaders.

Members of Vuon’s family say they were given 41 hectares (100 acres) of land by authorities in 1993 and that they built it from a nearly worthless lagoon into a successful seafood farm. In 2009, authorities decided to take the land back without offering compensation.

Vuon, claiming that the eviction decision was illegal, told the court that he used the weapons to give police “a warning so they will realize it was dangerous. I didn't intend to hurt the eviction forces.”

Reported by Mac Lam for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.





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