The Dong Tam Task Force, February 2020


This is a report on the violent government attack against Dong Tam village (near Hanoi, Vietnam) on January 9, 2020, just before the Lunar New Year. The attack resulted in the village leader’s death and more than two dozen arrests. Three policemen were also reported killed in the clash. This report reaches the conclusion that this event is the largest peacetime land dispute in Vietnam in terms of troops deployed, as well as one of the deadliest; it also highlights concerns about police brutality, abuse of power, and the contradictory concept of the “people’s ownership of land” in Vietnam.

Edited by: The Dong Tam Task Force
Cover design and typesetting: Nguyen Khanh An Liberal Publishing House – February 9, 2020


I. Event information
II. Background of the Dong Tam land dispute
III. Chronology of the Dong Tam land dispute
IV. Points of contention around the January 9 attack
V. Commentaries and testimonies on the January 9 attack VI. Legal violations of Vietnam’s domestic laws
VII. Legal violations of international standards
VIII. Recommendations
Appendix A
Appendix B
Appendix C

Event information:

On January 9, 2020, between 1 and 3 AM, thousands of police in coordination with local ground forces began to cordon off Dong Tam, a small village about 35 kilometers southwest of Hanoi. From 3 to 5 AM, they attacked villagers over a disputed piece of land.

The villagers were never officially notified of the attack but had heard over public loudspeakers the week prior that the land was “for national defense purposes”, a position the government had reiterated for years regarding the disputed piece of land.

Realizing the sudden message was an implicit warning that the government was about to crack down, Dong Tam villagers declared in video recorded several hours before the attack that they would “fight to the death” to hold onto the land.

Citizen-blogger social media reports say police cut internet and phone lines in pre-meditation, then burst into the village with tear gas and grenades filled with plastic ball bearings. They then descended upon village leader Le Dinh Kinh’s house, shooting and killing Kinh.

Witnesses describe “thousands of police officers rushing into the village” using flash grenades, firing tear gas, shooting rubber bullets, blocking off all pathways and alleys, and beating villagers indiscriminately, including women and old people.

According to state-controlled media, which only quotes an official statement from the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), it was villagers who attacked police with “grenades, petrol bombs, and knives” as officials tried to erect a wall delineating Mieu Mon airport. The statement accuses villagers of obstructing official duties and “disturbing public order”, a catch-all often used to describe anti-government actions in Vietnam.

Video and photo evidence posted on social media provides ample evidence of citizen mistreatment at the hands of the authorities, including a video in which Kinh’s wife, Du Thi Thanh, speaks about how she was tortured by police into giving a false statement that she had used grenades to attack law enforcement officers.

On January 13, state media released photos of some of the arrested villagers admitting guilt— covered in scrapes and bruises—and announced criminal proceeding against 26 individuals (at time of publication), including two of Kinh’s sons Cong and Chuc, for “murder” and “obstruction of officials”.

All 26 individuals are currently being held behind bars, in pre-trial detention, with no access to lawyers and family as prescribed by law. Those charged with murder face severe punishment, including the death penalty.

Full report: