A Vietnamese court sentenced two brothers to death and handed prison terms or probation to 27 others on Sept. 15, for their reported roles in the high-profile killings of three policemen in a clash over land rights, in a trial panned by rights groups.
Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc were charged with murder and resisting law enforcement before their tightly guarded trial in Vietnam’s capital of Hanoi. Twenty-seven others received punishments ranging from probation to 16 years or life imprisonment, reported Reuters.
The brothers’ father, Le Dinh Kinh, 83, was shot dead by police during the January clash at Dong Tam, a small rice-farming community next to a military air base, where authorities attempted to build a wall that the villagers said encroached on their land.
RFA reported that 3,000 security personnel were used in the raid on the Dong Tam commune which occurred in the early hours of the day.
The Dong Tam dispute has yet to be resolved. It came to a head on Jan. 8, when police shot and killed Kinh, a village elder and retired local official. Villagers said police raided the village and killed Kinh in his bedroom.
Sources close to the trial told RFA that Kinh’s widow Du Thi Thanh, was also not allowed to appear as a witness in court.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security said the three policemen were burnt to death by villagers armed with hand grenades, petrol bombs, knives and bricks in a pre-planned attack.
Lawyer Ha Huy Son told Reuters that of the two sentenced to death, Chuc had pleaded guilty but brother Cong denied the charges and would appeal.
“The case still has some unresolved issues, including how exactly the policemen were killed,” Son added.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the trial was far from independent and intended to send a message.
“Vietnam’s rulers are bending over backwards to show their toughest possible face against the Dong Tam villagers because they worry this community’s defiance could be contagious unless the defendants are hit with the most severe penalties,” Robertson said reported RFA.
“With the ruling communist party’s national congress just a few months away, there was never a possibility of anything but a rushed trial through a controlled court that would throw the book at these defendants.”
Ming Yu Hah of Amnesty International described the court proceedings as “a blatantly unfair trial”.
Professor Carl Thayer, from the University of New South Wales in Australia, told RFA that the Dong Tam raid and its subsequent trial was “a culmination of 40 years of problems with land” in Vietnam.
“Trials in Vietnam are not free and fair as we understand them,” Thayer said. “It’s not rule of law. It’s rule by law. The political decision is: you either put them on trial or you don’t. And if you’re putting them on trial, you’re predetermining [the outcome],” he said.