Vietnamese Villagers Detained in Dong Tam Land Clash Are Still Denied Family Visits
Villagers detained by authorities during a deadly police raid five months ago on the Dong Tam commune outside the Vietnamese capital Hanoi are being denied visits by family members, who are also restricted in what they can send their loved ones to support them in custody, sources say.
Dong Tam village elder Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was shot and killed by police during the Jan. 9 assault that involved about 3,000 security officers and was the latest flare-up of a long-running dispute over a military airport construction site about 25 miles south of Hanoi.
So far, 29 residents have been arrested in relation to the Dong Tam incident, which also claimed the lives of three police officers, and are being prosecuted on charges ranging from murder to the illegal storage and use of weapons and opposing officers on duty.
Relatives of those held in custody have not yet been able to visit their loved ones in detention, though, and can provide them only limited support behind bars, one family member told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“If I send gifts to my husband, I cannot send food,” said Nguyen Thi Duyen, wife of detained Dong Tam villager Le Dinh Uy. “I am allowed to send him only two suits of clothes, and can send him just one and a half million dong [U.S. $60] each month.”
Family members of the others held in jail are bound by the same restrictions, said Hoang Thi Hoa, wife of Le Dinh Chuc, son of slain Dong Tam village elder Le Dinh Kinh.
Le Dinh Chuc, 40, had at first been reported killed along with his father when police attacked their home in the early morning hours of Jan. 9, though state media later confirmed that only the older man had died.
Le had been left partly paralyzed in the assault, but his condition has now improved, Hoang told RFA on June 2.
“I met with the Hanoi police, and they said my husband’s health is better now, and he can walk again,” she said.
“I was going to send him some medicine and ask the police to let him go to the hospital for further treatment, but now they tell me that there are no signs of paralysis on the one side of his body,” she said.
Reached for comment, Hanoi police officer Do Dinh Thanh—the officer who had invited Hoang to come to the station to talk—declined to speak, saying he was busy and would call back later.
He failed to call again, though, and later attempts to reach him by phone rang unanswered.
Health improving ‘step by step’
Defense lawyer Le Van Hoa meanwhile said that Le Dinh Chuc’s health has slowly improved, with progress coming “step by step.”
“Following the [Jan. 9] clash, I met with Le Dinh Chuc while he was being questioned by police, and I saw that he had an injury on the top of his head. At that time, he found it very difficult to walk, and he moved very slowly,” he said.
“I [recently] asked him about his condition, and he said that he had been paralyzed on one side of his body, but since then his health has slowly been improving step by step.”
Official reports of the Jan. 9 police raid on Dong Tam said that villagers had assaulted police with grenades and petrol bombs, but a report drawn from witness accounts and released seven days later by journalists and activists said that police had attacked first during the deadly clash.
Police blocked off pathways and alleys during the attack and beat villagers “indiscriminately, including women and old people,” the report said, calling the assault “possibly the bloodiest land dispute in Vietnam in the last ten years.”
While all land in Vietnam is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint as residents accuse the government of pushing small landholders aside in favor of lucrative real estate projects, and of paying too little in compensation.
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