Anti-Corruption Fighter Do Cong Duong Unfairly Sentenced to Four Years in Prison

Anti-corruption activist Do Cong Duong

Defend the Defenders, September 17, 2018

 

On September 17, the People’s Court of Tu Son town found local anti-corruption activist Do Cong Duong guilty of “causing public disorders” under Article 318 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code.

Mr. Duong, who was on January 24 while filming the land grabing case in Tam Son commune, was sentenced to four years in prison, his lawyer Ha Huy Son said.

The trial was unfair as the judge refused to show evidences thay may prove the defendant’s innocence, lawyer Son noted, adding the witnesses summoned to the court were state officials or people working for the land grabbing party while evicted farmers recommended by the lawyer were not used.

Before being arrest, Mr. Duong was filming and he caused no troubles, Son said, affirming his client’s innocence and requested for his immediate release.

Five members of Mr. Duong’s family was allowed to enter the court’s areas which were blocked for local residents. However, they were not permitted to enter the courtroom but observed the trial from loud speakers.

Mr. Duong, 54, was also charged with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code. He is expected to be tried on this allegation in October by the People’s Court of Bac Ninh province. If is convicted, he may face another imprisonment of up to seven years in prison.

Mr. Duong, who is a land petitioner, became an activist on land issue. Together with other local residents, he filled letters to the state’s leaders to accuse Tu Son town’s government of illegal land seizure.

Duong is also a citizen journalist, producing hundreds of video clips which he has posted on his Facebook accountto report local officials’ corruption and cronyism, including provincial communist leader Nguyen Nhan Chien, who has big houses and has promoted numerous relatives to key positions in provincial agencies. The state-run media has also covered news affirming the information unveiled by Mr. Duong.

Due to his anti-corruption activities, Duong and his family have been persecuted by local authorities. He was summoned by the police for interrogation many times. Police also came to his private residence to threaten him.

His house has been attacked with a stinking concoction of feces, shrimp paste, and petrol, and his children have been discriminated in schools.

Duong’s arrest is likely reprisal for his efforts to fight illegal land grabbing and corruption, said his fellow My while hisattorney lawyer HaHuy Son said authorities in Bac Ninh provinceand Tu Son townare seeking to silence the anti-corruption activist and citizen journalist without respecting the country’s law and the presumption of innocence.

Land grabbing is a thorny problem in Vietnam where all land belongs to the state and local residents only have lease rights. The central government and local governments are authorized to seize any land from citizens for socio-economic development without paying adequate compensation.

In many localities, authorities have grabbed local residents’ land at very low compensation prices and sold it to property and industrial developers at prices much higher.

Thousands of farmers losing their land in that way are gathering in big cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to demand justice. The land petitioners are treated like second-class residents by the government. They are living in streets and house with cheap renting fees, being subjects of torture and detention by security forces.

Vietnam is among most corrupt nations in the world. According to Trading Economics, the nation scored 35 points out of 100 on the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. Corruption Index in Vietnam averaged 27.80 points from 1997 until 2017, reaching an all time high of 35 points in 2017 and a record low of 24 points in 2002.

In Vietnam where communists have ruled for decades, the government strictly controls media. Dozens of bloggers and independent journalists have been harassed and jailed.

Vietnam’s press freedom index is ranked at the 175th out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 Report.