A Vietnamese court on Monday sentenced a land-rights petitioner to 18 months in prison on public-order charges after she petitioned unsuccessfully for the legal right to land farmed by her family in the northern province of Ninh Binh, sources said.
Vu Thi Hai, born in 1961, had been detained since June 9, when she and three other farmers protested in front of the National Assembly building in Hanoi to gain government help in resolving disputes over their land.
After rushing the delegates’ cars in an attempt to plead for help, the four—part of a larger group of 22 petitioners—were taken into custody by police, sources said in earlier reports.
“The court sentenced her to 18 months in prison,” Tran Thu Nam, one of Hai’s two lawyers at the trial, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Monday.
“In my opinion as a lawyer, this case was all wrong,” he said.
Hai was convicted under Article 245 of Vietnam’s penal code on charges of disturbing public order after prosecutors in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh district said she had displayed protest banners outside central government offices from March to June, sources said.
Trees cut down
Hai began her protest after trees grown on land her family had farmed since 1978 were harvested in 2003 by the ruling Communist Party chief of Ninh Binh province's Thach Binh village, a land-rights activist in Vietnam told RFA on Tuesday.
“She went to the village office and found that the village chief had been issued a paper giving him the right to use the land,” the activist said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Village authorities then sold the wood and shared the profits, and though Hai’s family still farms the land, the village chief retains the legal rights to its use, the activist said.
Can Thi Theu, a farmer who had earlier lost land in a separate confiscation, had come to the court to witness the trial but was not allowed to attend, she told RFA on Monday.
“It was supposed to be a public trial, but I and my son and 30 other farmers were taken to a police station,” she said.
“Police used batons to force us into a vehicle."
“Right now, a police officer is speaking to me and writing up a report, and three or four others are filming me,” she said.
Son also detained
Duong Van Tuyen, Hai’s son, also attempted to attend the trial but was taken into custody with the others.
“We heard about my mother’s trial only from her lawyer, Tran Thu Nam,” Tuyen said. “We didn’t receive any information from the court.”
“Because it was a public trial, I and some other people who know my mother went to the court, but the police and security forces would not let us in,” he said, adding that he and the others were then forced into a vehicle and taken to a police station.
Tuyen said that he would continue to fight on his mother’s behalf.
“Our land was taken by the local government. They took all our trees,” he said.
“That was why mother had to come here to seek justice,” he said.
Vietnamese citizens frequently gather outside various government offices in the capital Hanoi and elsewhere around the country, hoping to speak or submit letters to officials about homes or farmland they have lost to confiscations by local authorities.
Others raise the case of relatives who have been wrongly imprisoned in the authoritarian, one-party state.
Reported by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Hanh Seide. Written in English by Richard Finney.