Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for August 31- September 6, 2020: Lawyers of Accused Dong Tam Land Petitioners Calls for Fair Trial


Defend the Defenders | September 6, 2020


On September 3, four days ahead of the first-instance hearing carried out by the People’s Court of Hanoi to try 29 Dong Tam land petitioners on charges of “murder” and “resisting on-duty state officials” related to the police’s brutal raid in the commune on January 9 this year, a group of 13 lawyers providing legal counsel to 21 out of the 29 defendants issued a joint petition to the city’s People’s Procuracy and People’s Court to ensure a fair trial.

In the petition, well-known lawyers point out many incorrect details and contradictions in the  Indictment and Investigation Conclusion issued by the Hanoi Police Department and the city’s People’s Procuracy which changes the nature of the case and may lead to injustice. The attorneys also propose the city’s People’s Procuracy and People’s Court take measures to protect the interests of the accused and prevent legal miscarriage.

Few days ahead of the first-instance hearing on Dong Tam case which will be held in Hanoi on September 7-16, authorities in localities across the nation, especially in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, send plainclothes agents to private residences of local dissents, social activists, and relatives of prisoners of conscience as well as Dong Tam commune to place them de facto under house arrest in a bid to prevent them from gathering to the capital city to support the accused Dong Tam land petitioners.

On September 4, eleven civil society organizations called on the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council to condemn next week’s trial against Dong Tam villagers. In their open letter, the signed rights groups including Reporters Without Borders, Safeguard Defenders, Brotherhood for Democracy, and Viet Tan said the accused land petitioners had only tried to defend their property against the government land seizure.

Regarding religious freedom in Vietnam, on September 3, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a press release calling on Vietnam’s government to take steps to improve religious freedom conditions in the country.

Praising Vietnam’s efforts to begin to help Hmong Christians in Dam Rong district in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong resettle after a period of religious discrimination, USCIRF encourages Vietnam’s government to work with authorities across the Central and Northern Highlands to assist other similarly situated groups. In addition, it asks Hanoi to address the religious discrimination that led to the displacement of these communities.

USCIRF said it welcomes Vietnam’s progress, but remains deeply concerned about the harassment of unregistered religious groups and religious freedom advocates. It urges Vietnam to release all individuals detained because of the peaceful expression of their beliefs, including religious freedom fighter Nguyen Bac Truyen and Protestant pastor A Dao.”

On September 3, well-known female activist Huynh Thuc Vy from the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak said a local Catholic kindergarten has rejected to admit her 4-year-old daughter to study in the educational facility in fear of being troubled by the local authorities since Mrs. Vy is under house arrest due to her suspended 33-month imprisonment.

===== September 1 =====

Activist Huynh Thuc Vy’s Child Reportedly Refused to Attend School

Defend the Defenders: Well-known human rights activist Huynh Thuc Vy has reported that authorities in Vietnam’s Central Highlands province of Dak Lak have requested a local Catholic school not to accept her 4-year-old daughter as a reprisal for her political activities.

On September 1, Vy took her child to the school to start the academic year. The kid had been enrolled here since the beginning of this year. However, a nun at the school told the young mother that the school cannot accept the kid because “Many people had told me about you, now I can no longer accept Tue Nha in our school.”

The nun added “… the school and I will be negatively affected if we admit your daughter” without specifying who from the local authorities have made the threats.

However, in an interview given to an independent journalist, the nun from the Huong Duong kindergarten in Vinh Duc diocese has rejected all Vy’s accusations, saying she is just concerned about Vy’s current status of being closely chased by the local police.

Vy, who was sentenced to 33 months of prison for “insulting Vietnam’s communist flag” in 2018 but her imprisonment was suspended due to her maternity for their second child, said several years ago, a local policeman threatened them not to permit their first kid to attend local schools. The couple is preparing for that but still wants to send their daughter to school in order to help her make friends with other children.

Her husband Le Duy has said that the couple was preparing for that so they will teach their kid at home with an American program different from the program offered by the communist regime which is mostly propaganda for the ruling communist party.

Vy is born in a dissident family. Her father Huynh Ngoc Tuan was a former prisoner of conscience, spending ten years in prison after being convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” for criticizing the communist regime. She was a co-founder of the unregistered group Vietnam Women for Human Rights and held its presidency for many years in the past.

Due to her human rights activities and political engagement, Vy, who was honored with the Human Rights Watch (HRW)’s Hellman-Hammett award in 2012 for her writing, has faced persecution by the communist regime for years. She was kidnapped and beaten as well as being chased by authorities in Ho Chi Minh City and her native province of Quang Nam. In Lam Dong, she has been regularly summoned for questioning. Authorities have also targeted her livelihood by going after her economic activities.

A number of international human rights groups such as the New York-based Human Rights Watch, the London-based Amnesty International, and the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have called on Vietnam to stop its persecution against Mrs. Vy.

Vy is among 275 prisoners of conscience on Defend the Defenders’ list.

In Vietnam, the communists are striving to keep the country under a one-party regime and make all tricks and measures to silence the local dissent, including long-term imprisonment, de facto under house arrest, summoning to police stations for interrogation and economic blockade as well as harassing their relatives.

===== September 3 =====

USCIRF Encourages Religious Freedom Progress on Vietnam National Day

USCIRF: The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) congratulated the government of Vietnam on its National Day, and encouraged the government to take steps to improve religious freedom conditions in the country.

“USCIRF commends both national and local authorities for working together to begin to help Hmong Christians in Dam Rong District, who have been rendered effectively stateless because of religious discrimination. However, this is only a first step,” USCIRF Commissioner James W. Carr stated. “We encourage the national government to work with authorities across the Central and Northern Highlands to assist other similarly situated groups. In addition, the Vietnamese government must address the religious discrimination that led to the displacement of these communities.”

For decades, local authorities in the Northern and Central Highlands have harassed Hmong and Montagnard Christians. According to human rights advocates, local authorities retaliated against these groups by refusing to issue identity cards and household registration, forcing thousands to flee to other parts of Vietnam. In January 2020, the government of Dam Rong District in Lam Dong Province announced plans to resettle 79 Hmong Christian households—521 residents—in Subdivision 179 who had been evicted from their villages. The plans include $3.3 million in funding and infrastructure construction, including roads and a medical clinic.

“USCIRF welcomes Vietnam’s progress, but we remain deeply concerned about the harassment of unregistered religious groups and religious freedom advocates,” noted USCIRF Vice Chair Anurima Bhargava. “We urge the government of Vietnam to release all individuals detained because of the peaceful expression of their beliefs, including Nguyen Bac Truyen and Pastor A Dao.”

Commissioner Carr and Vice Chair Bhargava advocate for Pastor A Dao and Nguyen Bac Truyen, respectively, as part of USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project.

In its 2020 Annual Report, USCIRF called upon the U.S. government to increase funding for religious freedom projects in Vietnam. In September 2019, a USCIRF delegation visited Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in order to assess the implementation of the Law on Belief and Religion. In June 2020, USCIRF released a country update about religious prisoners of conscience in Vietnam.


Dong Tam Land Petitioners’ Lawyers Issue Joint Petition to Demand Fair Trial

Thirteen attorneys who provide legal assistance for 21 out of 29 prosecuted 29 land petitioners in Dong Tam commune have issued a joint petition to the People’s Procuracy and the People’s Court of Hanoi to raise fair trial concerns surrounding the case whose first-instance hearing is scheduled on September 7-16 by the People’s Court of Hanoi.

The petition, dated September 3, listed several difficulties and obstacles that the lawyers faced throughout the legal process, including the following main points (summarised):

1/ During the investigation phase:

Police Investigation Bureau of the Hanoi Police Department has:

Delayed providing certificates authorizing several lawyers including Ngo Anh Tuan, Dang Dinh Manh, and Le Van Hoa to represent their clients and not allowed the lawyers to meet their clients privately in the detention center, even though this case is not related to national security.

It has not permitted the lawyers to have access to case files after the investigation concluded, despite the lawyers’ repeated requests and right to access such information under the law.

2/ During the prosecution case

The People’s Procuracy of Hanoi did not allow the lawyers to access the case files which would help them make recommendations as to how best to protect their clients’ legal rights, despite the lawyers’ repeated requests.

3/ During the preparation phase for court proceedings

The People’s Court of Hanoi left it very late before allowing the lawyers to make copy/ take photos of the case files. They could only do that in the end, after many requests.

Yet, the court secretary did not allow the lawyers to make a copy of 2 USBs among the case files which had video clips and photos of how the police force attacked the Dong Tam commune on January 9, 2020, and how the raid actually unfolded.

At the time of submitting the petition, just four days before the trial on September 7, the lawyers still could not copy these USBs to research the case despite many requests.

4/ Hanoi temporary detention center No. 2 under the authority of the Hanoi Police Department caused difficulties to the lawyers

Many times the authorities of the Hanoi temporary detention center No. 2 didn’t allow the lawyers to meet their clients despite all legal procedures had been satisfied. Many times, upon arriving at the detention center, the lawyers had to leave, as detention center officers rang their superiors then told the lawyers they were not allowed to meet their clients without giving a proper explanation.

After the case files had been forwarded to the court, whenever the lawyers went to the detention center to meet their clients, always there were 2 detention center officers sitting next to the lawyers and their clients, listening in to all phone conversations between the lawyers and their clients. In some meetings, detention center officers even brazenly interjected when lawyers and clients were in the middle of their conversations, and this violates the Criminal Procedure Code.

Since the lawyers could not have timely access to the case files as allowed by the law, nor could they meet their clients in private to understand the clients’ wishes, the lawyers had always been pressed and placed on the back foot as compared to the prosecution side.

After weeks, lawyers were allowed to copy the case files and meet with defendants in the detention center. However, they detected that several details in the interrogation conclusion statement were inconsistent with the defendants’ testimonies as found in the case files. They also contradicted the defendants’ accounts of events when the defendants had the chance to talk directly with their lawyers, without the presence of the interrogators.

Most seriously, many newly emerged details can alter the nature of a number of incidents that had occurred during the attack on Jan 9, in direct contradiction to a number of issues that had been stated in the police’s interrogation conclusion and the indictment. Yet, at this point in time, the lawyers no longer had enough time to verify and clarify those contradicting details.

5/ The Hanoi People’s Procuracy’s Indictment 241/CT-VKS-P2 dated June 24, 2020 (the Indictment) contains many incorrect and untrue details

False accusation and conclusion that the deceased Mr. Le Dinh Kinh “had committed murder,” even though he should have been presumed innocent at the time of his death during the attack on Jan 9, as he had never been sentenced by a court for such charge.

The indictment copied almost the totality of the information about the case as stated in reports done previously by the Hanoi Inspector’s Office and the Hanoi People’s Committee. The truth had been “edited out” leading readers to form a negative impression on the defendants.

6/ The attack in Dong Tam commune on January 9 described as such in the Indictment has been planned by the Hanoi Police Department, approved by the Hanoi People’s Committee and endorsed by the Ministry of Public Security

Page 5 of the indictment stated that the plan to “attack” Dong Tam commune had been proposed by the Hanoi Police Department. The plan had been approved by the Hanoi People’s Committee and endorsed by the Ministry of Public Security.

Thus there had been detailed planning by said authorities to attack Dong Tam commune on January 9. It had not been an unexpected occurrence, thus a total contradiction to all the information provided by the Ministry of Public Security to the public on its own website, then relayed by the state-controlled media since.

Until this point in time, many people still think that the detained Dong Tam villagers had clashed with the police forces at Dong Senh (Senh field), where there has been a land dispute, not in Hoanh village, Dong Tam commune, or in Mr. Kinh’s house.

7/ The accusation that Mr. Le Dinh Kinh used a knife with a long metal handle to attack policemen requires a reality check

Mr. Kinh was an elderly invalid who needed a stick to move around at the time of the attack. The indictment asserted that he had attacked two policemen with a knife first, [while having to lean on a stick with the other hand for support], thus justifying him being killed, requires a crime scene re-enactment to verify whether this had actually happened.

8/ Inconsistent details about the circumstances of Mr. Le Dinh Kinh’s death

The indictment stated that he was shot twice from behind, but the autopsy proved he was shot from the front. This was consistent with defendant Mr. Bui Viet Hieu’s accounts.

Mr. Hieu told the lawyers when they met in prison, that Mr. Kinh was shot right in front of him, that “the shooter stood in front of Mr. Kinh about one meter in distance, the barrel the size of a wrist, aiming straight at Mr. Kinh’s chest. Mr.Kinh fell down and died right in front of me, after which canine police came in to drag his body out.”

9/ The autopsy to open up Mr. Le Dinh Kinh’s body was illegal

Mr. Kinh’s family was not asked for permission nor invited to be present at the autopsy, so this act was illegal.

10/ Defendant Mr. Bui Viet Hieu was shot heavily injured.

Mr. Hieu told the lawyers that after Mr. Kinh was shot dead, someone shone a bright light and fired two shots at him, one hit his leg, another one hit his chest.

He was severely injured, being left on site waiting to die but he didn’t die. Only when he fell into a coma, his pulse stopped that he was taken for a medical emergency.

The interrogation conclusion mentioned he was injured but did not explain how he was injured and the extent of his injuries.

The indictment completely ignored Mr. Hieu’s injuries and these facts.

11/ The circumstance surrounding the deaths of three police officers by falling into a hole must be verified

The indictment stated that the hole was situated between the houses of two defendants Le Dinh Hoi and Le Dinh Chuc.

Verification by way of a crime scene re-enactment is required in order to determine accurately whether the police officers fell into the hole by themselves by accident as they were not familiar with the location, or because they had been attacked by Mr. Le Dinh Chuc and other defendants.

12/ Too many contradictory details require a re-investigation especially a crime scene re-enactment


Given too many contradictory details that cannot be verified before the trial set on September 7, it is suggested that the Hanoi People’s Court return the case files to the investigation bureau to clarify these details, and especially to carry out a crime scene re-enactment in the presence of judicial bodies, defendants, lawyers, defendants’ families, etc.

13/ To summon individuals who are of direct relevance to the case

The people who are of direct relevance to the case should be required to attend as witnesses at the trial, including:

Widow Du Thi Thanh, the wife of killed Le Dinh Kinh. She is a witness and a damage-suffering party in the case.

Mrs. Nguyen Thi Duyen, the wife of defendant Mr. Le Dinh Uy

Policemen who were injured during the attack – as damage-suffering parties

Policeman/men who fatally shot Mr. Le Dinh Kinh and caused injuries to Mr. Bui Viet Hieu

14/ To allow the press, relatives, and public observers to attend the trial

In order to ensure the trial will be a democratic and open trial according to the Constitution and the law, the lawyers recommend the judges:

– to allow the press, the relatives, and public observers to attend the trial

– to ensure defendants and their legal representatives the right to present their cases, to defend and self-defend

– to remind representatives of the People’s Procuracy that they must take part in cross-examination with the defending lawyers pursuant to the Criminal Procedure Code.

The undersigned, on behalf of 13 lawyers representing 21 defendants from Dong Tam village 

  1. Lawyer Ngô Anh Tuấn;
  2. Lawyer Lê Văn Hoà;
  3. Lawyer Đặng Đình Mạnh;
  4. Lawyer Nguyễn Hà Luân;
  5. Lawyer Lê Văn Luân;
  6. Lawyer Hà Huy Sơn;
  7. Lawyer Nguyễn Văn Miếng;
  8. Lawyer Nguyễn Khả Thành;
  9. Lawyer Ngô Ngọc Trai;
  10. Lawyer Trương Chí Công;
  11. Lawyer Dương Lê Ước An;
  12. Lawyer Bùi Hải Quảng;
  13. Lawyer Phạm Lệ Quyên.




NGOs Call on UN to Press Vietnam for a Fair Trial in Dong Tam Case

RFA: Eleven civil society organizations called on the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council in an open letter on Friday to condemn next week’s trial in Vietnam of 29 villagers detained after a deadly land clash near Hanoi, saying the group had only tried to defend their property against a government land grab.

During the past nine months following the arrest of the Dong Tam villagers, none of them have been allowed to see their families, said the letter addressed to U.N. Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, president of the Council, and signed by Reporters Without Borders, Brotherhood for Democracy, Viet Tan, and other human rights and democracy advocacy groups.

“They were also barred from seeing their lawyers,” the letter said.

“The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Vietnam is a signatory, enumerates in Article 14 that a fair trial entails ‘adequate time and facilities for the preparation of [their] defense and to communicate with counsel of [their] own choosing,” the NGOs’ letter said.

“[But] these procedural guarantees have been consistently violated leading up to the trial of these 29 individuals, rendering claims against the defendants arbitrary.”

And though the court trying the case has announced that the trial will be open to the public, “family members of the 29 defendants have not received paperwork from the court allowing them to attend,” the letter said.

For further reading: NGOs Call on UN to Press Vietnam for a Fair Trial in Dong Tam Case