Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for January 13-19, 2020: Vietnam Continues Crackdown on Dong Tam Residents and Involving Activists


Defend the Defenders, January 19, 2020


Authorities in Hanoi have charged 20 residents in Dong Tam commune with murder and two others with “resisting law enforcement officers” several days after the brutal attack of Vietnam’s police in the commune in which local moral leader Le Dinh Kinh was shot to death four times. Among them are two sons and two grandsons of Mr. Kinh. Police say they are responsible for the deaths of three police officers during the raid.

After Mr. Kinh was killed, several activists called on Vietnamese people in the country and abroad to donate for his family and send their financial aids to Vietnam Joint Bank of Commerce (Vietcombank)’s account of Hanoi-based activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh, who is also managing the 50K Fund which works on behalf of prisoners of conscience and activists-at-risks. Within two days, the donation made from Vietnamese in the country and abroad rose to over VND528 million ($22,500). However, on January 17, when Mrs. Hanh went to the Vietcombank’s branch to withdraw the aid in a bid to hand it over to Mr. Le Dinh Kinh’s family, the bank refused, saying her account had been frozen. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Security has announced that it has ordered to freeze bank accounts of some activists who have been receiving financial supports for Mr. Le Dinh Kinh’s family and other families in Dong Tam because the aid would be used for weapon purchase, and Mrs. Hanh is among these activists.

In response, hundreds of activists across the nation have announced to withdraw all their savings in Vietcombank and pledge not to use the bank’s services in the future. The campaign to boycott Vietcombank continues.

After detaining him for more than 9 days, authorities in Ninh Kieu district, Can Tho City, have officially announced that they will hold local resident Chung Hoang Chuong in detention in a bid to investigate for the allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the country’s Criminal Code. He will be likely kept incommunicado for at least three months and face imprisonment of up to seven years if is convicted. Chuong is the first Facebooker being probed for disseminating news on the Vietnamese police’s brutal attack in Dong Tam on January 9 amid increasing crackdown on the local dissent.

During the week, several human rights defenders including prominent political blogger Pham Doan Trang, established the Dong Tam Task Force which strives to collect information regarding the Dong Tam incident on January 9 from independent sources to make the group’s report on the case to provide for the international community. Their first  report was released on January 16 and has been disseminated to foreign politicians, international NGOs, and other agencies.

Currently, numerous police are deployed in Dong Tam commune to suppress the local residents who are placed under close surveillance one week prior to the Lunar New Year 2020.

On January 14, the People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City postponed the first-instance hearing scheduled on the same day to try 8 members of the Hien Phap (Constitution) who were kidnapped in early September 2018 and charged with “Disruption of Security” under Article 118 of the Criminal Code with the maximum imprisonment of 15 years. The new date for the trial has not been set.

Authorities in the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum had harassed and intimidated Mrs. Duyen, the wife of prisoner of conscience Le Van Phuong, after arresting him in October 2018 and sentencing him to seven years in prison and three years of probation in September 2019. Mrs. Duyen said she was summoned to police stations where she was requested to persuade her husband to confess. However, she refused as her husband always claims that he is innocent.

Vietnam did little to improve its abysmal human rights record in 2019, said the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its report Vietnam Events in 2019. The communist government continues to restrict all basic civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly, and the rights to freely practice beliefs and religion. It prohibits the formation and operation of any organization or group deemed threatening to the Communist Party’s monopoly of power.

HRW said the Vietnamese authorities block accesses to websites and request that social media and/or telecommunications companies remove contents deemed to be politically sensitive. Those who criticize the one-party regime face police intimidation, harassment, restricted movement, physical assault, detention, and arrest and imprisonment. Police detain political detainees for months without access to legal counsel and subject them to abusive interrogations. Party-controlled courts sentence bloggers and activists on bogus national security charges. In 2019, authorities convicted at least 25 people in politically motivated cases.

===== January 13 =====

20 Residents in Dong Tam Commune Investigated for Murdering Police Officers during Violent Raid in Hoanh Village on January 9

 Defend the Defenders: The Police Department of Hanoi has announced that it has charged 20 residents of Dong Tam commune with “murdering” and two others with “resisting law enforcement officers” in the bloody clash in the commune’s Hoanh village in the early morning of January which led to at least four deaths, including 3 of police officers.

According to the state-controlled media, a senior official from the city’s Police Department said it is holding 26 residents of Dong Tam commune who are said to be involved in the incident, 20 of them were charged with the first allegation with the highest sentence being capital punishment and two were alleged with the second accusation with the highest sentence being seven years in prison.

The remaining four may be charged with one of the two allegations, the official added.

Among detainees with murder charge are Mr. Le Dinh Cong and Mr. Le Dinh Chuc, sons of Mr. Le Dinh Kinh, the elderly leader of Dong Tam commune who was shot four times by police in the early morning of January 9, and Mr. Le Dinh Quang and Le Dinh Doanh, two Kinh’s grandsons. Some Facebook accounts suspected earlier that some of them have also been killed by police during the raid.

In its regular daily news broadcasted at 7 PM on January 13, the state official television channel VTV1 aired confessions of Mr. Le Dinh Cong, Mr. Le Dinh Quang, Mr. Le Dinh Doanh, and Ms. Bui Thi Noi. Accordingly, they committed to preparing hand-made petrol bombs and purchase grenades as well as attacking police forces with stones and petrol bombs during the police raid on January 9. Their faces showed that they may have suffered torture before making confessions.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Hanoi-based activist La Viet Dung, widow Du Thi Thanh, the wife of Mr. Le Dinh Kinh, said she was tortured in police custody when they forced her to admit that her family had storing grenades. When she replied that she cannot admit because she does not know how grenades look like, they slapped her on her face repeatedly.

During the police attack in Mr. Le Dinh Kinh’s private residence, three police officers named senior lieutenant colonel Nguyen Huy Thinh, deputy commander of the Riot Police Capital Regiment, lieutenant Duong Duc Hoang Quan from the same unit, and lieutenant Pham Cong Huy from Hanoi Firefighting Unit, died in unclear circumstance.

Vietnam’s regime has pledged to impose heavy sentences for Dong Tam commune’s residents in a bid to revenge for the deaths of the three officers who were promoted, awarded with Merit of Victory, and recognized as soldiers sacrificed their lives during duty.

The clash is part of the land dispute in Dong Tam commune. Vietnam’s communist regime is willing to reclaim a land parcel of 59 hectares named Senh field, saying it is defense land under the administration of the Vietnam People’s Army and is within the Mieu Mon military airport project which was planned in 1980s but has never started. However, residents in Dong Tam say the Senh field is their agricultural field.

The dispute started in early 2017 when VPA wants to give the Senh field to its company Viettel to carry out some development projects. They meet strong protests from the local residents who demand compensation for the field.

In April 2017, police cheat Mr. Kinh by telling him to go to the disputed areas where they beat him, broke his right leg and arrested him and some others. Dong Tam resident got angry and detained 38 police officers to keep as hostages. The crisis ended after Chairman Nguyen Duc Chung of the Hanoi People’s Committee came to pledge to release Mr. Le Dinh Kinh and other detainees, not to probe for hostage, and settle the land dispute peacefully according to the law.

However, Chung did not keep his words and in recent months, Hanoi’s authorities intensified harassment against Dong Tam residents in a bid to force them to give up their Senh field. Dong Tam commune residents have vowed to protect their land even they have to pay with their blood.

===== January 14 =====

Trial against Eight Members of Hiến Pháp Group Postponed, New Schedule Not Announced

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s communist regime has postponed the first-instance hearing to try eight members of the unregistered group Hiến Pháp (Constitution) on the allegation “disruption of security” under Article 118 of the country’s Criminal Code” for their intention to participate in a peaceful demonstration in early September last year, Defend the Defenders has learned.

The People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City made the decision to delay the trial on January 13, one day prior to the scheduled date, saying the postpone was due to the request of Mr. Le Quy Loc, one of the defendants, for summoning witness(es).

The court has not set the new date for the trial but it would be within 30 days from the day of canceling.

Some observers have linked the delay with the bloody attack of police in Dong Tam in which land rights activist Le Dinh Kinh was killed by riot police. The communist regime is willing to reduce social dissatisfaction which rose to its peak in recent days so they don’t want people to get more anger from lengthy sentences which would be given for the group members.

According to the court’s announcement, Ms. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh and Mrs. Hoang Thi Thu Vang are charged with the allegation of “disruption of security” under Clause 1 of Article 118 of the Criminal Code with imprisonment of between five and 15 years in prison. Six others named Mr. Do The Hoa, Mr. Ho Dinh Cuong, Mr. Tran Thanh Phuong, Mr. Ngo Van Dung, Mr. Le Quy Loc and Ms. Doan Thi Hong are subjected to the allegation under Clause 2 of the same article with imprisonment of between two and seven years if are convicted.

All of them were kidnapped by HCM City’s police on September 2-4, 2018 and held incommunicado for months. Their families had not been informed about their detentions and charges for months after they went to different state agencies and police stations to ask for their status and found out that they were kept by the city’s police.

Hiến Pháp (Constitution) is a group of activists working to educate the public about the human rights they are entitled to under Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution by disseminating the country’s 2013 Constitution among citizens. Its members were active during the mass demonstration in HCM City on June 10, 2018 in which tens of thousands of Vietnamese rallied on streets to protest the communist regime’s plan to approve two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cybersecurity.

In order to prevent similar protests in early September 2018, Vietnam’s security forces launched a big campaign to persecute local dissent and all members of the Hiến Pháp group became their targets. Two other members of the group named Huynh Truong Ca and Le Minh The were arrested and convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” and “abusing democratic freedom,” respectively while three others were forced to relocate in Thailand to avoid being arrested.

Defend the Defenders considers eight jailed members of the group as prisoners of conscience and the accusations against them are groundless.

===== January 16 =====

Kon Tum Police Continuously Harasses Wife of Prisoner of Conscience Le Van Phuong after Imprisoning Him for “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda” 

Defend the Defenders: Police in Vietnam’s Central Highlands province of Kon Tum have harassed Mrs. Duyen after imprisoning her husband Le Van Phuong on the allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code, Defend the Defenders has learned.

Talking to Defend the Defenders, Mrs. Duyen said since her husband’s arrest in mid-October 2018, police in Kon Tum summoned her to a local police station where police officers threatened her, pressuring her to persuade him to confess his guilt.

However, she has never persuaded her husband to give up because he is innocent, she told Defend the Defenders.

Duyen said her 30-year-old husband has criticized the communist regime on many issues, including human rights violations, failure to deal with systemic environmental pollution, and lack of a proper program to deal with China’s aggressive acts in the East Sea (South China Sea).

He participated in a number of peaceful demonstrations, including the mass protest on June 10, 2018 regarding the two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security.

Phuong was arrested on October 17, 2018 for sharing about social issues on his Facebook account. He was tried on August 2, 2019 and sentenced to seven years in prison and three years of probation.  On November 12, 2019, he was transferred to Gia Trung prison.

As he holds an isolated life, when he was arrested, his friends didn’t know, he didn’t have a lawyer while the media wasn’t aware of his case so there was no media report on him.

Phuong and his wife have a four-year-old son.

Based on the facts provided by his wife, Defend the Defenders considers Phuong as a prisoner of conscience.

===== January 17 =====

Vietcombank Freezes Activist’s Account Due to Donations for Deceased Dong Tam Elderly Leader

Defend the Defenders: Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam (Vietcombank), the largest commercial bank in communist-ruled Vietnam, has frozen a bank account of Hanoi-based activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh after she receives a large sum of donations for Dong Tam’s deceased elderly leader Le Dinh Kinh, who was killed by police in Hanoi on January 9.

On January 17, Mrs. Hanh went to the bank to withdraw the money gift for the family of the Dong Tam commune’s moral leader, the bank told her this account has been frozen. Asked for the reason, the bank refused the answer. It only gave her a copied document, showing VND525.45 million ($22,500) have been frozen.

Hanh, who is managing the 50K Fund for assisting prisoners of conscience and activists-at-risks, called on Vietnamese in the country and abroad to make donations for the family of Mr. Kinh after the deadly raid of Vietnam’s police on January 9 in which they killed him and destroyed his house. In addition, police arrested his two sons and two grandsons as well as his adopted daughter and charged them with “murder.”

After the call, Hanh has received more than thousands of small donations from Vietnamese across the globe. She had been placed in de facto house arrest for more than a week and plainclothes agents were deployed near her private residence in Hanoi until Friday.

Meanwhile, prominent dissident and political writer Pham Doan Trang has alerted that Vietnam’s security forces have been pressuring those people who had sent money support to Dong Tam villagers to admit that they are members of a certain political party when they provided “financial support” to Dong Tam villagers.

The police’s sinister goal is to try with all their might to create the existence of a group of terrorists in Dong Tam, and use that as an excuse to “attack, destroy the terrorists,” with aim to cover up their crime of having mounted a large-scale, organized attack against Dong Tam residents on January 9, said Trang, who has been among activists who established the “Dong Tam taskforce” to compile, verify and announce publicly all information relating to the police brutal attack in the location.

After Mrs. Hanh announced Vietcombank’s act, hundreds of activists have called for a boycott of the bank’s services and urged people to withdraw their money from the bank. They urged the bank to reconsider its decision in Mrs. Hanh’s case otherwise it will face a widespread boycott.

This is the second case of freezing activists’ accounts of Vietcombank. In 2015, it made the same act against prominent political dissident Nguyen Thanh Giang. However, it reopened his account after receiving a threat of boycotts of activists in the capital city at that time.

In response to the call for the boycott against Vietcombank, Deputy Minister of Public Security Luong Tam Quang said the bank’s move was requested by the ministry in a bid to deal with terrorism. He said many contributors to Mr. Kinh’s family have admitted that their donations are for purchasing weapons against Vietnam’s police.

On its website, the ministry has requested people not to send donations for Mr. Kinh’s family. It also admitted that it ordered Vietcombank to freeze the bank account of Mrs. Hanh.

Related article:  Vietnamese Bank Freezes Accounts of Dong Tam Activists, Supporters

===== January 18 =====

Independent Report on Dong Tam Bloody Attack Released

Defend the Defenders: The Dong Tam Task Force has released its report on the bloody attack of Vietnam’s police forces in Hoanh village, Dong Tam commune, My Duc district, Hanoi on January 9, 2020.

According to The Dong Tam Task Force, the attack which resulted in the death of the Hoanh village leader and arrests of more than two dozens of local residents, is possibly the bloodiest land dispute in Vietnam in the last decade, it also highlights concerns about police brutality, abuse of power, and the contradictory concept of the “people’s ownership of land” in Vietnam.

The report has been sent to the UN’s agencies, foreign governments and legislators, and international rights groups.

The Dong Tam Task Force is a group of activists consisting of prominent dissident and political writer Pham Doan Trang, Nguyen Truong Son- Amnesty International’s campaigner for Vietnam and Cambodia, and Will Nguyen, a Vietnamese American who was jailed for nearly two months by Vietnam’s police for his participation in the mass protest in Saigon on June 10, 2018.

For full report: