Nguồn: Báo cáo Đồng Tâm (PDF)
Tài liệu này là báo cáo về vụ tấn công tàn khốc của chính quyền vào thôn Hoành, xã Đồng Tâm (ngoại thành Hà Nội) vào rạng sáng 09 tháng 01 năm 2020. Vụ tấn công là đỉnh điểm của một tranh chấp đất đai kéo dài, và đã dẫn đến cái chết của thủ lĩnh tinh thần của thôn, ba cảnh sát thiệt mạng, và gần 30 người bị bắt.
Ngày 07 tháng 9 năm 2020, phiên xét xử sơ thẩm diễn ra tại Hà Nội, tuyên hai án tử hình, một án chung thân, và hơn 80 năm tù cho những người dân bị tấn công.
Bản báo cáo đưa ra kết luận rằng đây có thể là vụ tranh chấp đất đai lớn nhất tại Việt Nam thời bình, xét về quân số công an được huy động, về dư luận, và về số sinh mạng thiệt hại. Báo cáo cũng nêu bật tình trạng bạo hành và lộng quyền của lực lượng công an, cũng như khái niệm đầy mâu thuẫn – “quyền sở hữu toàn dân về đất đai” – tại Việt Nam.
Tác giả: Phạm Đoan Trang – Will Nguyen
VỀ TÁC GIẢ
Phạm Đoan Trang là một nhà báo, nhà hoạt động dân chủ ở Việt Nam. Tốt nghiệp chuyên ngành kinh tế quốc tế, Đại học Ngoại thương Hà Nội, Đoan Trang đã làm việc trong lĩnh vực truyền thông (báo chí, truyền hình, xuất bản) từ cuối năm 2000. Hiện Đoan Trang là biên tập viên của Luật Khoa tạp chí.
Đoan Trang là tác giả, đồng tác giả của nhiều cuốn sách, trong đó có: “Anh Ba Sàm”, “Từ Facebook xuống đường”, báo cáo “Toàn cảnh thảm họa môi trường biển Việt Nam” (2016), “Chính trị bình dân” (2017), “Phản kháng phi bạo lực” (2017), “Học chính sách công qua chuyện đặc khu” (2018), “Politics of a Police State” (2019).
Will Nguyen là một người viết, một nhà hoạt động dân chủ. Anh cộng tác với nhiều tổ chức xã hội dân sự ở khu vực châu Á-Thái Bình Dương, làm các công việc: đào tạo nhà hoạt động, biên dịch sách (các tác phẩm của giới đối kháng) và biên tập báo chí, cũng như vận động quốc tế cho mục đích cải cách chính trị ở Việt Nam.
Anh tốt nghiệp Đại học Yale năm 2008 với bằng cử nhân ngành nghiên cứu Đông Á, và vào năm 2018, sau khi tốt nghiệp cao học chính sách công tại Đại học Quốc gia Singapore, đã bị bắt giam và bỏ tù ở Việt Nam một thời gian do tham gia biểu tình.
I. Tóm tắt sự kiện 69
II. Hỏi nhanh đáp gọn về vụ Đồng Tâm 71
III. Bối cảnh tranh chấp đất đai ở Đồng Tâm 76
IV. Các mốc thời gian trong vụ tranh chấp đất tại Đồng Tâm 79
V. Đối sách của chính quyền: thông tin bất nhất và đàn áp 85
VI. Các điểm gây tranh cãi xung quanh vụ tấn công Đồng Tâm 89
VII. Phiên tòa sơ thẩm 94
VIII. Bình luận và lời chứng về vụ tấn công Đồng Tâm và phiên xử sơ thẩm 103
IX. Các vi phạm đối với luật pháp Việt Nam 106
X. Các vi phạm xét theo tiêu chuẩn nhân quyền quốc tế 109
XI. Khuyến nghị 113
Phụ lục A: Dữ kiện và số liệu thực tế về vụ tấn công Đồng Tâm 114 Phụ lục B: Bào chữa của luật sư 116 Phụ lục C: Lê Đình Công trả lời luật sư trước tòa 118 Phụ lục D: Bản câu hỏi của Luật Khoa tạp chí 122 Phụ lục E: Những câu hỏi sau phiên tòa sơ thẩm 124
I. TÓM TẮT SỰ KIỆN66
Khoảng từ 1 đến 3h sáng ngày mùng 09 tháng 01 năm 2020, hàng nghìn cảnh sát thuộc nhiều lực lượng: đặc nhiệm, cơ động, hình sự, trọng án, đặc biệt cảnh sát điều tra, phối hợp với các lực lượng tại địa phương bao vây và tấn công xã Đồng Tâm, nơi cách cánh đồng Sênh –khu vực đất tranh chấp – khoảng 5km.
Trước đó, dân làng không hề được thông báo gì, nhưng có nghe loa truyền thanh xã nhắc đi nhắc lại rằng đất Đồng Tâm là đất quốc phòng – quan điểm mà chính quyền đã lặp lại nhiều lần trong nhiều năm qua về vùng đất tranh chấp này. Ý thức được thông điệp ngầm là chính quyền sẽ tổ chức cưỡng chế, dân Đồng Tâm tuyên bố trong một đoạn video được ghi hình lại vài tiếng đồng hồ trước khi diễn ra vụ tấn công, rằng họ sẽ “chiến đấu tới cùng” để giữ được mảnh đất.
Theo truyền thông độc lập của dân và blogger, phía công an đã cắt mạng internet và phá sóng điện thoại trước, sau đó ồ ạt tiến vào làng với hơi cay và lựu đạn, chất nổ. Cuối cùng, công an xông vào nhà riêng của ông Lê Đình Kình – người được xem như thủ lĩnh tinh thần của ngôi làng – và bắn chết ông.
Các nhân chứng thuật lại cảnh “hàng ngàn cảnh sát tiến quân vào làng” ném lựu đạn gây choáng, bắn đạn hơi cay, đạn cao su, chặn tất cả các ngả đường và ngõ ngách, đánh đập người dân trong làng một cách bừa bãi, kể cả phụ nữ và người già.
Buổi sáng 09/01, 26 người, phần lớn là thành viên đại gia đình ông Lê Đình Kình, đã bị công an bắt. Cùng lúc, các trang mạng của đội ngũ dư luận viên ở Việt Nam đưa tin “có ba chiến sĩ hy sinh” vì bị “bọn khủng bố” sát hại, cùng hình ảnh một thi thể cháy đen, không nhận rõ nhân dạng.
Báo đài chính thống của nhà nước, chỉ lấy nguồn tin duy nhất từ Bộ Công an, cho hay, người dân đã tấn công công an bằng “lựu đạn, bom xăng và dao” khi lực lượng công quyền đang dựng tường rào bảo vệ sân bay Miếu Môn. Nguồn tin của công an cũng cáo buộc dân làng đã cản trợ người thi hành công vụ và “gây rối trật tự công cộng” – một thuật ngữ thường được gán cho tất cả các hành động phản kháng chính quyền tại Việt Nam.
Các bức ảnh chụp và video được đăng tải trên mạng xã hội đã cho thấy rất nhiều bằng chứng về việc nhà chức trách đã bạo hành người dân, bao gồm một đoạn video mà trong đó bà Dư Thị Thành – vợ của ông Kình – kể về việc đã bị công an tra tấn để ép khai nhận chồng bà đã dùng lựu đạn để tấn công lực lượng chức năng.
Ngày 13/01, truyền thông nhà nước phát đi hình ảnh của một số người dân làng bị bắt, với khuôn mặt xây xát và thâm tím, cúi đầu nhận tội. Báo chí cũng công bố quyết định của công an khởi tố 26 cá nhân, trong đó có 5 người là con trai và cháu của ông Kình là Công, Chức, Quang, Doanh và Uy, vì tội “giết người” và “chống người thi hành công vụ”.
Trong những tháng sau đó, công an tiếp tục bắt giam thêm vài người dân Đồng Tâm khác.
Ngày 07/9/2020, 29 người Đồng Tâm bị đưa ra xét xử sơ thẩm. Phiên tòa tiếp tục làm nóng dư luận với việc một số bị cáo kêu bị tra tấn để bức cung, trong khi công an huy động lực lượng cực kỳ đông đảo để kiểm soát tình hình, canh gác chặt xã Đồng Tâm cũng như giới hoạt động nhân quyền, quấy nhiễu và đe dọa luật sư. Chỉ sau ba ngày, mồng 09/9, Viện Kiểm sát đề nghị hai án tử hình đối với hai ông Lê Đình Công và Lê Đình Chức. Thứ hai, ngày 14/9/2020, Tòa tuyên án tử hình cho Lê Đình Công, Lê Đình Chức (hai con trai của ông Kình), án chung thân cho Lê Đình Doanh (cháu nội ông Kình), 16 năm tù cho ông Bùi Viết Hiểu.
Cuộc tấn công của chính quyền vào Đồng Tâm đêm 09/01 được công an, Viện Kiểm sát và Tòa án Nhân dân TP. Hà Nội gọi nhất quán trong các văn bản và trên truyền thông là “vụ án giết người và chống người thi hành công vụ xảy ra tại thôn Hoành, Đồng Tâm, Mỹ Đức, Hà Nội ngày 09/01/2020”. Vì không nhất trí với cách gọi có tính áp đặt tội này, và để ngắn gọn, báo cáo sẽ gọi đây là “vụ Đồng Tâm”, hoặc “vụ tấn công Đồng Tâm”.
II. HỎI NHANH ĐÁP GỌN VỀ VỤ ĐỒNG TÂM67
1. Đất Đồng Tâm thực sự là của ai?
Để trả lời câu hỏi này, bạn phải tìm hiểu về lịch sử vùng đất này cũng như toàn bộ lịch sử tranh chấp giữa nhà nước và dân xung quanh nó. Đây là một việc khó và mất thời gian. Tuy nhiên, bạn không cần phải biết chính xác đất này của ai thì mới có thể lên tiếng về vụ tấn công của công an vào Đồng Tâm; đó là một chuyện hoàn toàn khác.
Vấn đề tranh chấp đất ở khu vực cánh đồng Sênh (xã Đồng Tâm) và vụ tấn công của công an vào khu dân cư thôn Hoành (cũng xã Đồng Tâm) là hai vụ việc có bản chất pháp lý khác nhau, dù có liên quan với nhau nhưng phải được xem xét một cách độc lập về mặt pháp lý.
2. Nhưng theo hiến pháp và luật pháp Việt Nam hiện hành, toàn bộ đất đai thuộc sở hữu toàn dân, do nhà nước quản lý, đúng không?
Đúng vậy. Điều 53 của Hiến pháp nước CHXHCN Việt Nam quy định: “Đất đai, tài nguyên nước, tài nguyên khoáng sản, nguồn lợi ở vùng biển, vùng trời, tài nguyên thiên nhiên khác và các tài sản do Nhà nước đầu tư, quản lý là tài sản công thuộc sở hữu toàn dân do Nhà nước đại diện chủ sở hữu và thống nhất quản lý”.
Điều 4, Luật Đất đai 2013 quy định: “Đất đai thuộc sở hữu toàn dân do Nhà nước đại diện chủ sở hữu và thống nhất quản lý. Nhà nước trao quyền sử dụng đất cho người sử dụng đất theo quy định của Luật này”.
Tuy vậy, ngay cả giới chuyên gia luật cũng nghi ngờ tính hợp lý của chế độ sở hữu toàn dân về đất đai. Nhưng đó là một việc khác và sẽ được bàn trong một dịp khác.
3. Nếu vậy, khi nhà nước thu hồi quyền sử dụng đất mà công dân không chấp hành thì công an có quyền cưỡng chế đất?
Theo luật hiện hành thì đúng vậy, nhưng vụ tấn công ngày 09/01/2020 không phải là cưỡng chế đất. Nếu là cưỡng chế đất thì phải tiến hành trên khu vực đất tranh chấp ở đồng Sênh, chứ không phải trên khu dân cư ở thôn Hoành như đã diễn ra trên thực tế.
Ngay cả khi là cưỡng chế đất, thì vụ việc cũng phải theo đúng trình tự, thủ tục pháp luật. Liệu cưỡng chế đất vào nửa đêm về sáng có phải là một trình tự hợp lý hay không? Phương pháp cưỡng chế này gần với một hoạt động quản lý hành chính của nhà nước hay gần với một cuộc tập kích tiêu diệt kẻ thù hơn?
Nhưng ngay cả luật hiện hành cũng rất có thể không hợp lý. Bản chất tranh chấp tài sản (trong đó có đất đai, hay quyền sử dụng đất) là tranh chấp dân sự, lẽ ra nên được giải quyết theo cơ chế hòa giải, trọng tài hoặc tòa án dân sự độc lập. Sau khi đã có phán quyết của tòa rồi, nếu dân Đồng Tâm thua, thì lúc đó mới đến lượt cơ quan thi hành án vào cuộc để thu hồi tài sản, trong đó có cả biện pháp cưỡng chế.
67 Bài “Hỏi nhanh đáp gọn về vụ Đồng Tâm” của nhóm bút Bình dân Học vụ, đăng trên Luật Khoa tạp chí ngày 15/6/2020: https://www.luatkhoa.org/2020/06/hoi-nhanh-dap-gon-ve-vu-dong-tam/
Liệu có nên giải quyết tranh chấp dân sự bằng quyết định hành chính hay không? Ở đây, cơ quan hành chính vừa là một bên tranh chấp, vừa là bên thanh tra tính đúng sai của vụ việc, lại vừa là bên cưỡng chế thu hồi, thì tức là vừa đá bóng, vừa thổi còi.
4. Ông Lê Đình Kình được coi như thủ lĩnh tinh thần của dân Đồng Tâm, và vì thế có thể coi ông như “đối tượng cầm đầu nhóm chống đối”. Vậy, tiêu diệt một đối tượng chống đối thì có gì sai?
Nếu dùng logic này, bất kỳ ai chống đối nhà nước đều có thể bị tiêu diệt.
Gia đình ông Nguyễn Thanh Chấn, Huỳnh Văn Nén, Hàn Đức Long chống đối đến cùng các bản án mà họ cho là oan sai. Như vậy công an cũng nên tiêu diệt họ luôn? (Những người này về sau đều được giải oan).
Gia đình tử tù Hồ Duy Hải biểu tình ròng rã từ năm này qua năm khác để phản đối các bản án của tòa, cũng nên bị tiêu diệt nốt?
Vào những năm bao cấp, những ai phản đối kinh tế kế hoạch, đòi làm ăn theo cơ chế thị trường, hẳn cũng thuộc diện nên bị tiêu diệt?
Lần lại xa hơn trong lịch sử, những ai chống đối việc đấu tố, tiêu diệt địa chủ trong Cải cách Ruộng đất cũng nên bị tiêu diệt luôn?
Nếu dùng logic này, ta phải dựa trên hai giả định: Nhà nước luôn đúng, và hành vi chống đối luôn luôn gây ra mối nguy hiểm tức thì, tới mức phải tiêu diệt để ngăn chặn một thiệt hại lớn hơn cho xã hội.
Bạn có chắc hai giả định này luôn đúng hay không? Nếu đúng, ông Lê Đình Kình đáng bị tiêu diệt. Nếu không, toàn bộ logic của lập luận trên sẽ bị phá sản.
5. Nếu nói vậy thì khi nào chính quyền mới được quyền dùng vũ lực tiêu diệt một công dân?
Theo lẽ thường, mọi người đều có quyền sống. Chính quyền chỉ có thể tiêu diệt công dân trong hai trường hợp: Công dân bị tuyên án tử hình, và công dân đang tạo ra một mối nguy hiểm cận kề đủ lớn để chính quyền phải tiêu diệt. Xin lưu ý, mối nguy hiểm này phải đủ lớn và phải cận kề thì mới phải tiêu diệt. Nguy hiểm đủ lớn nhưng không cận kề thì cũng không cần phải tiêu diệt. Ví dụ: Công dân cầm chai bia vỡ đi giữa phố vắng người và nói đến nhà tổ trưởng giết, thì chỉ cần khống chế và cách ly đối tượng là đủ.
Chưa từng có tòa án nào kết tội ông Lê Đình Kình vì bất cứ tội gì, chứ chưa nói đến án tử hình. Giết người mà không có bản án được gọi là “giết người vô luật”,68 vốn là hành vi phạm tội và vi phạm các chuẩn mực nhân quyền căn bản nhất.
Ông Lê Đình Kình có gây ra mối nguy hiểm nào đủ lớn và cận kề để cần phải bị tiêu diệt hay không?
68 Định nghĩa trong Luật Bảo vệ các nạn nhân của tra tấn, Quốc hội Hoa Kỳ ban hành năm 1991, và “Sổ tay LHQ về ngăn chặn và điều tra tội hành quyết vô luật, tùy tiện, cẩu thả”, cùng năm 1991.
Ở hầu như bất kỳ quốc gia nào thì quân đội và công an cũng được mặc định là hai lực lượng duy nhất trong xã hội có quyền sử dụng vũ khí và vũ lực để cưỡng bức khi cần; nói cách khác, họ có tính chính danh để sử dụng vũ khí và vũ lực. Vì thế, quân đội và công an có sức mạnh, và ở họ tiềm ẩn khả năng lạm quyền rất cao. Bởi vậy cho nên luật pháp của mọi quốc gia đều có quy định về việc sử dụng bạo lực, sử dụng vũ khí để ngăn ngừa lực lượng chấp pháp lạm dụng vũ lực.
Khoản 2, Điều 22 của Luật Quản lý, Sử dụng Vũ khí, Vật liệu nổ và Công cụ Hỗ trợ quy định “chỉ sử dụng vũ khí quân dụng khi không còn biện pháp nào khác để ngăn chặn hành vi của đối tượng và sau khi đã cảnh báo mà đối tượng không tuân theo”. Trong vụ tấn công ở Đồng Tâm, chưa rõ liệu các lực lượng công quyền đã phát đi cảnh báo hay chưa, hoặc liệu có phải người dân địa phương đã không chịu tuân thủ. Tuy nhiên, xét bối cảnh một vụ đụng độ mà trong đó chỉ có vài chục nông dân đối đầu với lực lượng công an có vũ trang, có loa phóng thanh, có thế chủ động (tấn công giữa đêm), thật khó có thể nói rằng “không còn biện pháp nào khác để ngăn chặn hành vi của đối tượng”.
Các chuẩn mực về nhân quyền trên toàn thế giới cũng có những quy định để ngăn việc lực lượng chấp pháp sử dụng vũ lực vượt quá mức cho phép.69 Bản chất vụ Đồng Tâm là lực lượng công an có vũ trang tấn công một mục tiêu dân sự vào ban đêm. Căn cứ vào đó, khả năng rất cao là công an Việt Nam đã đi quá giới hạn trong vụ tấn công vào Đồng Tâm.
6. Theo công an, dân làng Đồng Tâm, nhất là gia đình ông Lê Đình Kình, có tàng trữ vũ khí. Nếu công an không ra tay tấn công và ngăn chặn trước, những người này đem vũ khí đi làm điều ác, ví dụ khủng bố, thì sao?
Trước hết, phải làm rõ, mọi thứ đều có thể là vũ khí giết người (bom, súng, dao, kiếm, côn, kéo, dây thừng, máy tính xách tay, v.v.). Đó có thể là những vật dụng thông thường.
Trên thực tế, trong vụ Đồng Tâm, chỉ sau khi đã khống chế toàn bộ dân làng, công an mới bắt đầu thu gom “vũ khí” của dân Đồng Tâm để làm bằng chứng về tội tàng trữ vũ khí và công bố hình ảnh lên trang web của Bộ Công an vào buổi sáng hôm sau. Rất nhiều trong số “vũ khí” đó chỉ là gạch đá, dao kéo đồ dùng trong nhà, bình gas, nghĩa là khó mà được coi là vũ khí được tàng trữ từ trước với động cơ xấu.
Như đã nói ở trên, việc công an thi hành pháp luật luôn phải theo đúng thủ tục, quy trình, trình tự pháp lý, hay còn gọi là theo đúng chuẩn mực tố tụng.
Để tấn công một mục tiêu (dân sự) như Đồng Tâm, công an phải có đầy đủ bằng chứng về việc đối phương có tàng trữ vũ khí từ trước, bằng chứng này lại phải được thu nhận một cách hợp lệ, đúng chuẩn.
Rồi để tấn công mục tiêu, công an cũng phải thực hiện theo đúng quy trình, có cảnh báo từ trước, có cân nhắc đầy đủ mọi yếu tố, điều kiện, hoàn cảnh liên quan trước khi có thể nổ súng. Nôm na là, ngay cả khi phát hiện một bọn khủng bố đang bắt cóc con tin chẳng hạn, công an cũng phải tiến hành vây hãm, gọi loa thuyết phục đầu hàng, thương lượng… rất lâu mới có thể tấn công.
69 “Chuẩn mực nhân quyền quốc tế cho hoạt động hành pháp” và mục 18, Bình luận chung của Ủy ban Nhân quyền LHQ về Điều 6 ICCPR.
Ngoài ra, tất cả mọi người đều có quyền được sống, đi cùng với quyền tự vệ chính đáng. Nếu bị đe dọa, bị cướp xông vào nhà lúc nửa đêm chẳng hạn, mọi người đều có quyền chống trả bằng bất cứ phương tiện gì mà họ có được.
7. Nhưng dân Đồng Tâm đã đe dọa trước. Chính họ làm các clip tuyên bố sẽ tấn công công an, và đăng tải lên mạng. “Chúng tôi hứa không diệt từ 300 đến 500 thằng chúng tôi sẽ không nhìn thấy đồng bào cả nước nữa. Lần này chúng quyết giết tôi thì chúng cũng phải nổ tan xác. Đấy là một cái quyết tâm của người Đồng Tâm chúng tôi”. Vậy công an chủ động tấn công họ trước thì có phải là tự vệ chính đáng không?
Nếu có người nói “mấy người hỏi linh tinh quá, hỏi nữa là đập chết đấy”, bạn có mang súng đến nhà họ bắn trước để “tự vệ” không?
Họ nói – rất có thể chỉ là “chém gió” hoặc gồng lên để dằn mặt đối phương trước – rằng họ sẽ diệt “từ 300 đến 500 thằng”, công an bèn đem một số lớn quân có vũ trang, kéo vào làng ban đêm và nổ súng. Như thế có phải là công an tự vệ chính đáng?
Ở khía cạnh ngược lại, nếu có kẻ ban đêm kéo một đoàn rầm rập vào nhà bạn (mà không được mời), bạn có quyền tự vệ chính đáng, chống trả bằng bất cứ phương tiện gì.
8. Trong vụ Đồng Tâm, công an không phải kẻ trộm, kẻ cướp. Đây là họ đang thi hành công vụ; công vụ đó có thể là cưỡng chế đất đai, tiêu diệt tội phạm…
Là công vụ thì cũng phải chính đáng và hợp pháp, nếu không muốn nói là càng là công vụ, càng phải chính đáng và hợp pháp. Việc cưỡng chế đất đai trong trường hợp này là không chính đáng (thực hiện ban đêm, ngoài giờ hành chính, vi phạm Luật Đất đai). Nói là để tiêu diệt tội phạm thì càng không đúng vì đã xác định được tội phạm đâu mà đã tấn công người ta? (Bạn hãy so sánh vụ tấn công của công an vào Đồng Tâm với vụ truy sát Tuấn khỉ – nghi phạm giết người trốn truy nã. Trường hợp tấn công nào là chính đáng?).
Kế đó là tính hợp pháp. Công vụ hợp pháp luôn luôn được thể hiện bằng một văn bản hành chính xác định trước nội dung công vụ, mà trong đó, cơ sở pháp lý của công vụ sẽ được trích dẫn. Trong vụ Đồng Tâm, chính quyền có nói đến bản kế hoạch đã được thông qua nhằm mục đích bảo đảm an ninh trật tự trong địa phương, nhưng thực tế chưa bao giờ chính quyền công khai bản kế hoạch này cả. Cho dù trong phiên tòa xét xử, các luật sư đã liên tục yêu cầu minh bạch hóa bản kế hoạch đó.
9. Theo bản kết luận điều tra của công an thì phía dân Đồng Tâm, nhất là người nhà ông Lê Đình Kình, đã sát hại ba chiến sĩ công an rất dã man. Thậm chí đốt công an xong còn nói “thơm nhỉ?”. Đó là tội ác, phải nghiêm trị.
Công an là bên tấn công. Công an là bên bắt giam người, thẩm vấn lấy cung, thu gom bằng chứng, quản lý hiện trường, lập kết luận điều tra… Toàn bộ quá trình, chỉ do công an thực hiện, không có sự chứng kiến của bất cứ một bên thứ ba độc lập nào, kể cả nhân chứng theo quy định của pháp luật. Theo bạn, trong trường hợp ấy, công an có khách quan không? Lấy gì bảo đảm công an khách quan?
Bạn cũng đừng quên là toàn bộ gia đình ông Lê Đình Kình đã bị bắt đi mất tích ngay trong đêm xảy ra vụ tấn công Đồng Tâm. Sau đó, họ mới được thả dần, và lại cũng có những người khác tiếp tục bị bắt. Đến ngày 09/6/2020, tròn 5 tháng sau vụ tấn công, tổng cộng có 29 người đã bị bắt giam, không ai được tiếp cận với họ (ngoài công an). Trong số này, một vài người đã “lên tivi” nhận tội (bản tin Thời sự 19h của VTV tối 13/01/2020), với gương mặt sưng vù, bầm tím – dấu hiệu của tra tấn. Bạn nghĩ những người đang ở trong tay công an có thể nói khác ý công an không?
Và bạn nghĩ, với những điều kiện làm việc như thế, được ưu đãi tuyệt đối trong quá trình điều tra như thế, công an có đủ “năng lực” để dựng lên cả một câu chuyện, thậm chí cả câu nói “thơm nhỉ?” kia không?
Đó là lý do vì sao trong những vụ việc mà chính công an là một bên tham gia xung đột (thậm chí có dấu hiệu phạm tội) như thế này, phải có điều tra độc lập của bên thứ ba để bảo đảm lẽ công bằng.
III. BỐI CẢNH TRANH CHẤP ĐẤT ĐAI Ở ĐỒNG TÂM
Vụ tranh chấp đất đai ở Đồng Tâm xoay quanh hai mảnh đất liền kề nhau và sẽ được gọi tên là phần Đông (rộng 47,36 héc-ta) và phần Tây (rộng 59 héc-ta) trong báo cáo này.70
Năm 1980, phó thủ tướng lúc đó là Đỗ Mười ký Quyết định 113-TTg ngày 14/4/1980 thu hồi 208 héc-ta đất, trong đó có phần Đông, để thực hiện dự án sân bay Miếu Môn.71
Ngày 10/11/1981, UBND tỉnh Hà Sơn Bình lúc đó ban hành Quyết định 386 QĐ/UB, triển khai giai đoạn 1 của dự án. Phần phía Đông được lên kế hoạch cho việc xây dựng sân bay Miếu Môn, và cư dân xã Đồng Tâm đã đồng ý chuyển giao khu đất này cho chính quyền trung ương mà đại diện quản lý là Bộ Tư lệnh Công Binh, sau này là Lữ đoàn 28 Quân chủng Phòng không Không quân (PKKQ).72
Tuy nhiên, không có giai đoạn nào của dự án được thực thi, và phía quân đội đã cho người dân địa phương thuê lại để canh tác nông nghiệp. Phần đất 47,36 héc-ta trở thành khu đất duy nhất của xã Đồng Tâm đã được thu hồi có đền bù.73
Phần phía Tây hiện đang được người dân xã Đồng Tâm sử dụng và gọi tên là “cánh đồng Sênh”.
Tranh chấp bắt đầu nảy sinh khi bên quân đội có kế hoạch thu hồi lại phần Đông để chuyển giao cho tập đoàn Viettel – một đơn vị kinh doanh viễn thông thuộc sở hữu của quân đội – và họ
cũng muốn lấy luôn cả phần phía Tây.74 Cư dân Đồng Tâm phản đối ý định này, cho rằng phần phía Tây là đất nông nghiệp của họ, nghĩa là bên Viettel hoặc quân đội phải trả tiền đền bù giải tỏa theo giá thị trường.
Ngược lại, phía quân đội và Viettel một mực khẳng định rằng toàn bộ mảnh đất này đều được quy hoạch riêng cho mục đích quốc phòng an ninh và chỉ chấp nhận một mức đền bù thấp hơn. Đáng chú ý, Tập đoàn Viettel đã đưa ra những thông tin không nhất quán: Trong một cuộc họp với ông Lê Đình Kình, họ nói rằng chính quyền huyện Mỹ Đức đã bán mảnh đất này cho họ, vì thế không đặt ra vấn đề bồi thường cho cư dân75.
Quân đội và Viettel hẳn là được sự ủng hộ của chính quyền Hà Nội. Ngày 20/10/2014, phó chủ tịch UBND TP. Hà Nội khi đó là Vũ Hồng Khanh đã ký Quyết định 5383 thu hồi 236 héc-ta “đất dự án sân bay Miếu Môn” cho Lữ đoàn 28 xây doanh trại,76 vượt hẳn con số 208 trong kế hoạch thu hồi năm 1980. Tuy nhiên, ba ngày sau, Lữ đoàn 28 đã phản hồi rằng họ chỉ sở hữu 208 héc-ta chứ không phải 236.
Lập luận và hành động của người dân xã Đồng Tâm
Cư dân Đồng Tâm khẳng định rằng 100% diện tích 59 héc-ta đất cánh đồng Sênh đều là đất nông nghiệp của xã. Vì vậy, nếu Viettel muốn sử dụng mảnh đất này, họ có nghĩa vụ phải trả tiền đền bù theo luật định.
Tháng 5/2016, UBND TP. Hà Nội đã gửi Văn bản số 2590 đến bốn cơ quan, bao gồm Sở Tài nguyên Môi trường Hà Nội, Ban Chỉ đạo Giải phóng mặt bằng TP, UBND huyện Mỹ Đức và Tập đoàn Viễn thông Viettel. Theo văn bản này, Tập đoàn Viettel có trách nhiệm “đền bù giải tỏa” cho người dân địa phương.77
Người dân địa phương chất vấn rằng nếu đất đồng Sênh thực sự là đất quốc phòng thì tại sao Viettel và chính quyền thành phố Hà Nội lại trả tiền “đền bù giải tỏa” cho cư dân, thay vì xử phạt người dân vì đã “lấn chiếm đất dành cho mục đích quốc phòng”?
Ngoài ra, khi tin tức về việc thu hồi đất bị rò rỉ vào năm 2014, cư dân xã Đồng Tâm đã gửi đơn khiếu nại lên đơn vị phụ trách xây dựng sân bay Miếu Môn – Quân chủng PKKQ. Quân chủng PKKQ sau đó đề nghị người dân lên gặp các cơ quan dân sự của Thành phố Hà Nội để giải quyết khiếu nại. Phản hồi này của Quân chủng PKKQ cho thấy phía quân đội đã thừa nhận đồng Sênh là “đất dân sự”.
Cuối cùng, dân Đồng Tâm trích dẫn các quyết định của chính quyền Hà Nội vào đầu thập niên 1980 (đã nêu trên), theo đó chính quyền cho rằng tổng diện tích đất quốc phòng ở Đồng Tâm là 236 héc-ta, nhưng Lữ đoàn 28 lại nói chỉ đang quản lý 208 héc-ta. Câu hỏi dân đặt ra là sao lại có chênh lệch 28 héc-ta giữa hai con số này.
74 Các văn bản của nhà nước tránh phân định “phần phía Đông” và “phần phía Tây”, chỉ gọi chung là khu đất. 75 Ông Lê Đình Kình là nhân chứng trực tiếp, theo sát ngay từ đầu quá trình tranh chấp đất đai kéo dài vài thập kỷ này. Nhiều người cho rằng đó chính là lý do vì sao ông Kình bị sát hại.
Lập luận và hành động của nhà chức trách
Nhà chức trách, đại diện là quân đội và tập đoàn Viettel, khẳng định rằng toàn bộ khu đất (cả phần phía Đông và phần phía Tây) đều là đất quốc phòng.
Ngày 03/7/2017, Chủ tịch UBND TP. Hà Nội Nguyễn Đức Chung (nguyên là thiếu tướng, giám đốc công an thành phố) yêu cầu Hội đồng Nhân dân Thành phố rút lại đề xuất “tái định cư những người dân (đang sinh sống) tại đất đồng Sênh”, cho rằng những người dân này không cần tái định cư nữa (vì đã có đất rồi).78 Bốn ngày sau, Thanh tra TP. Hà Nội công bố dự thảo kết luận thanh tra,79 mà ta có thể thấy là đứng về phía chính quyền. Theo đó, toàn bộ khu đất gần xã Đồng Tâm, bao gồm cả phần Đông và phần Tây, đều là đất quốc phòng. Thậm chí theo kết luận này thì trên thực tế, chẳng có “phần Đông”, “phần Tây” nào cả.
Cơ quan thanh tra cũng cho rằng chính quyền địa phương đã có những “sơ hở trong việc quản lý đất đai”, tạo điều kiện để người dân xâm phạm vào đất quốc phòng.
Chênh lệch 28 héc-ta trong Quyết định 5383 được giải thích là “bị ảnh hưởng của thi công” (!), mặc dù chưa từng có giai đoạn “thi công” nào của dự án sân bay Miếu Môn được tiến hành.
78 https://dantri.com.vn/xa-hoi/ha-noi-rut-du-an-thu-hoi-dat-tai-dinh-cu-o-xa-dong-tam 20170703114227262.htm
79 https://vietnamnet.vn/vn/thoi-su/thanh-tra-ha-noi-59-ha-dat-dong-senh-la-dat-quoc-phong 382550.html#inner-article
IV. MỐC THỜI GIAN TRONG VỤ TRANH CHẤP ĐẤT ĐỒNG TÂM
1980 Chính quyền thu hồi 47,36 héc-ta đất từ người dân xã Đồng Tâm để triển khai dự án xây dựng “sân bay Miếu Môn”.
2014 Bộ Quốc phòng chuyển giao cho Tập đoàn Viettel “đất dành cho mục đích quốc phòng” tại xã Đồng Tâm để xây dựng nhà máy.
2017 15/4: Công an TP. Hà Nội mời đại diện xã Đồng Tâm đến đo đạc ranh giới giữa phần “đất quân sự” và “đất nông nghiệp”. Khi bốn đại diện của dân làng đến nơi, họ bị bắt giữ và lôi đi mà không hề có lệnh bắt bằng văn bản. Một người trong số đó là ông Lê Đình Kình, sinh năm 1936, đã bị đánh gãy một chân.80
Người dân địa phương đến giải cứu và xảy ra đụng độ với cảnh sát. Thêm nhiều cảnh sát được điều động tới để giải tán đám đông đang phẫn nộ; 38 cảnh sát cơ động bị người dân bắt giữ làm con tin.81
22/4: Chủ tịch UBND TP. Hà Nội Nguyễn Đức Chung và một đoàn công tác đến xã Đồng Tâm để “đối thoại” với dân. Cuối cùng, các con tin được trả tự do và ông Chung viết văn bản cam kết không truy tố những người dân có liên quan đến vụ việc. Một số nhà quan sát tỏ ra nghi ngờ cam kết này, cho rằng vì ông Chung là một quan chức chính quyền và là đại diện của hành pháp nên không có tư cách để đại diện cho tòa án, vì thế cam kết của ông về cơ bản là vô nghĩa.
13/6: Công an khởi tố hình sự đối với một số người dân xã Đồng Tâm liên quan đến vụ bắt giữ nhóm cảnh sát cơ động làm con tin, bất chấp cam kết của Chủ tịch UBND TP. Hà Nội Nguyễn Đức Chung trước đó rằng sẽ không ai bị truy tố.82
07/7: Thanh tra TP. Hà Nội đưa ra bản dự thảo “kết luận việc thanh tra đất đai ở xã Đồng Tâm”, trong đó khẳng định rằng toàn bộ khu đất này đều là đất dành cho quốc phòng.83 Ông Bùi Văn Kính, một người đại diện của xã Đồng Tâm, không đồng tình với kết luận này và nói rằng họ đã thừa kế đất đồng Sênh từ ông bà thời Pháp thuộc. Tuy nhiên, chính quyền TP. Hà Nội vẫn một mực cho rằng không có mảnh đất nào có thể “của ông bà tổ tiên” nào, bởi vì toàn bộ đất đai trên lãnh thổ Việt Nam đều thuộc sở hữu toàn dân.84
25/7: Thanh tra TP. Hà Nội công bố kết luận cuối cùng về cuộc thanh tra đất đai ở xã Đồng Tâm, giữ nguyên quan điểm đã nêu trong dự thảo.
2018 15/4: Dân Đồng Tâm gửi tâm thư đến Hội nghị Trung ương 7, Ban Chấp hành Trung ương đảng Cộng sản Việt Nam khóa XII. Trong thư, bà con khẳng định với Bộ Chính trị
80 Có thể kiểm chứng với các nhân chứng là cư dân Đồng Tâm. Vì lý do an toàn cho các nguồn tin ở Đồng Tâm, chúng tôi không công bố danh tính nhân chứng trong báo cáo này.
81 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/21/world/asia/vietnam-hostages-protest-land-dispute-eviction.html 82 https://tuoitre.vn/khoi-to-dieu-tra-vu-bat-nguoi-trai-phap-luat-tai-xa-dong-tam-1331049.htm 83 https://vietnamnet.vn/vn/thoi-su/thanh-tra-ha-noi-59-ha-dat-dong-senh-la-dat-quoc-phong 382550.html#inner-article
DONG TAM REPORT
This is a report on the violent government attack against Dong Tam village (near Hanoi, Vietnam) on January 9, 2020. The attack was the culmination of a long-running land dispute and resulted in the death of the village leader, three police officers, and the arrest of more than two dozen villagers.
On September 7, 2020, these villagers were brought to preliminary trial in Hanoi, where they were handed two death sentences, one life sentence, and more than 80 years of prison.
This report reaches the conclusion that this event is the largest peacetime land dispute in Vietnam in terms of troop deployment, public awareness, and deaths; it also hightlights concerns about police brutality, abuse of power, and the contradictory concept of the “people’s ownership of land” in Vietnam.
Edited by: Pham Doan Trang – Will Nguyen
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Pham Doan Trang is a Vietnamese journalist and democracy activist. After graduating from Hanoi Foreign Trade University in 2001 with a degree in International Economics, she worked in print media, TV production, and publishing. She is now working as an editor for Luat Khoa, a Vietnamese magazine that focuses on political and legal issues in Vietnam.
Trang is the author and co-author of many books, including “Anh Ba Sam”, “From Facebook down to the Street”, “An Overview of the Marine Life Disaster in Vietnam” (2016), “A Handbook of Non-violent Resistance Techniques”, “Politics for the Common People” (2017), “Learning Public Policy through the Issue of Special Economic Zones” (2018), and “Politics of a Police State” (2019).
Will Nguyen is a writer and Vietnamese democracy activist. He works with civil society groups in the Asia-Pacific region, training activists, translating dissident works and news stories, and rallying international support in pursuit of political reform in Vietnam.
He graduated from Yale University in 2008 with a Bachelor’s in East Asian Studies, and in 2018, after completing his Master in Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, was arrested and briefly imprisoned in Vietnam for his role in nationwide protests.
I. Event summary 4 II. Brief Q&As regarding the Dong Tam attack 6 III. Background of the Dong Tam land dispute 11 IV. Chronology of the Dong Tam land dispute 14 V. Government response: inconsistent information and suppression 20 VI. Points of contention around the January 9 attack 24 VII. The preliminary September trial 29 VIII. Commentaries and testimonies on Dong Tam attack 38 IX. Legal violations of Vietnam’s domestic laws 41 X. Violations of international human rights standards 44 XI. Recommendations 47
Appendix A: Facts and figures on the Dong Tam attack 48 Appendix B: Defense lawyer’s argument 50 Appendix C: Le Dinh Cong’s court testimony 52 Appendix D: Independent media questionnaire sent to the Ministry of Public Security 56 Appendix E: Post-preliminary trial questions posed by civil society groups 58 Appendix F: Photos of the Dong Tam attack and aftermath 60
I. EVENT SUMMARY1
On January 9, 2020, between 1 and 3 AM, thousands of police from special task, riot, criminal, and investigative units cordon off Dong Tam in coordination with local ground forces and attacked villagers; the early morning attack was the culmination of a long-running dispute over Senh Field, a 59-hectare parcel of land about five kilometers away.
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 a 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.
On the morning of January 9, 26 people, the majority of whom were members of elder Le Dinh Kinh’s extended family, were arrested by police. Concurrently, webpages belonging to Vietnam’s public opinion brigade began reporting on the “the deaths of three martyrs” killed by “terrorists”, attaching to these posts ambiguous pictures of charred corpses.
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 five of Kinh’s sons and grandsons: Cong, Chuc, Quang, Doanh, and Uy, for “murder” and “obstruction of officials”.
In the months that followed, police continued to arrest a number of other Dong Tam residents.
On September 7, 2020, 29 individuals from Dong Tam were tried. The trial roiled public opinion; a number of defendants claimed they were tortured into confessing, as police mass-mobilized their forces, crowding the courtroom to maintain order, tightly surveilling Dong Tam commune, as well as human rights activists, and harassing and threatening lawyers. On September 9, after only three days, the Procuracy recommended the death sentence for Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc (two of Le Dinh Kinh’s sons). On Monday, September 14, the court sentenced Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc to death, Le Dinh Doanh (Kinh’s grandson) to life in prison, and elder Bui Viet Hieu to 16 years in prison.
On paper and in media, the police, the Procuracy, and the People’s Court of Hanoi consistently refer to the government’s attack on Dong Tam the night of January 9 as “the case of murder and obstruction of officials that occurred in Hoanh village, Dong Tam, My Duc, Hanoi, January 9, 2020”. Because we do not agree with this incriminating (and cumbersome) moniker, this report will refer to the occurrence as “the Dong Tam incident”, “the Dong Tam event”, or “the Dong Tam attack”.
II. BRIEF Q&As REGARDING THE DONG TAM EVENT2
1. Who does Dong Tam’s land really belong to?
To answer this question, you’d have to research the history of both the land and the conflict between the state and the people involved. This is difficult and time-consuming. However, you don’t have to know exactly to whom the land belongs to speak out about the police attack on Dong Tam; that is a different matter altogether.
As a reminder, the dispute over the Senh Field (the disputed land in Dong Tam commune) and the police attack on the residents of Hoanh hamlet (also in Dong Tam commune) are two different legal affairs; though they are related events, they must be seen as two separate legal matters.
2. According to Vietnam’s current constitution and laws, all land belongs to the people and is to be managed by the state, right?
That’s right. Article 53 of the constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam stipulates:
“Land, water resources, mineral resources, resources in the sea and airspace, other natural resources and property invested and managed by the State are public properties, coming under ownership of the people, represented and uniformly managed by the State.”
Article 4 of the 2013 Land Law stipulates: “Land is owned by the people, and is represented and uniformly managed by the State. The State grants permission for land use according to the stipulations of this law.”
However, even legal specialists have their doubts about the viability of a land-owning regime in which “all the people” own the land. But that is another matter for another day.
3. If so, then when the State rescinds land usage rights and citizens refuse to accept the decision, police have the right to repossess the land by force, right?
According to current law, that is correct, but the attack on January 9, 2020 was not a land repossession. If it had been a land repossession, the event would have taken place on the disputed piece of land itself, rather than in the residential area of Hoanh hamlet, as actually occurred.
Land repossessions themselves must follow proper legal procedure. Was a land repossession in the middle of the night following reasonable procedure? Was this manner of repossession closer to standard state administrative activity or a raid to wipe out enemies?
The possibility also exists that current law is no longer tenable. Disputes over assets (which includes land and land usage) are civil disputes and should be resolved by conciliatory mechanisms, either by arbitrator or independent civil court. It is only after the residents of Dong Tam have lost in court do officials have the right to come in and repossess assets, including by force.
2“Brief Q&A regarding the Dong Tam Event”, written by pen group Let’s Think, was published on Luat Khoa Magazine on June 15, 2020: https://www.luatkhoa.org/2020/06/hoi-nhanh-dap-gon-ve-vu-dong-tam/
Should civil disputes even be resolved by administrative decision? Here, an administrative body is not only involved in the dispute but also issues the judgment and carries out the repossession. It would be as if a soccer player were also the referee.
4. Dong Tam residents saw Mr. Le Dinh Kinh as their spiritual leader, and as such, he is the “ringleader of a hostile group”. What’s wrong with eliminating a hostile target?
By this logic, anyone who opposes the state could be eliminated.
The families of Mr. Nguyen Thanh Chan, Huynh Van Nen, and Han Duc Long fought to the end to protest their sentences, which they felt were unjust—should police eliminate these people? (These individuals ultimately had their injustices resolved.)
Death row inmate Ho Duy Hai’s family, who has been protesting his verdict for years on end— should they be eliminated?
During those years of subsidy, people who opposed a planned economy and demanded to make a living according to the market—should they have been eliminated?
Let’s go even farther back in history: anyone who opposed the denunciation and elimination of landlords during the Land Reform campaign—should these people have been eliminated themselves?
This kind of logic is based on two assumptions: one, that the state is always right, and two, any kind of resistance to it is an immediate danger that must be eliminated in order to prevent larger harm to society.
Are you sure these two assumptions are always correct? If so, then Mr. Le Dinh Kinh should be eliminated. If not, then the logic of this question is immediately undone.
5. If that’s true, then when does the government have the right to use force against a citizen?
It should go without saying that everyone has the right to life. The government can only use deadly force against a citizen in two situations: the citizen has been sentenced to death, or the citizen is a clear and immediate danger. The emphasis here is on “immediate”; if the danger is clear but not necessarily immediate, then the government does not need to eliminate it. For example, if a citizen holding a broken beer bottle stands in the middle of an empty street and threatens the head of a household with death, then he simply needs to be restrained and removed from the area.
Mr. Le Dinh Kinh has never been convicted of any crime in any court of law, much less sentenced to death. Killing a citizen without any kind of legal mandate is known as an “extrajudicial killing”,3 a criminal act and a violation of the most basic of human rights.
Was Mr. Le Dinh Kinh a danger clear and immediate enough to be killed?
3“Torture Victim Protection Act”, US Congress, 1991; UN Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, 1991.
In nearly all countries, the army and the police are by default the only two forces in society that have the right to use violence or weapons when necessary; in other words, they have the legitimacy to use force or weaponry.
Because the army and police are quite powerful, the implicit potential for abuse of power is very high. As a result, all countries have regulations regarding the use of violence and weaponry to preclude its abuse by executive powers.
Section 2, Article 22 of the Law on Management, Use of Weaponry, Explosive Materials, and Supporting Equipment stipulates: “military weapons may only be used when all other methods to subdue the subject have been exhausted and the subject refuses to heed warnings given.”
In the attack on Dong Tam, it is unclear whether the civil authorities ever gave any warnings or if local residents refused to heed them. However, looking over the context of the conflict, where tens of farmers clash with thousands of armed police who possess loudspeakers and the ability to mobilize (an attack in the middle of the night), it’s difficult to say that “all other methods to subdue the subject have been exhausted.”
Global human rights standards also include regulations to limit the use of extralegal violence by executive powers.4 The substance of the Dong Tam affair boils down to the fact that armed police attacked a civil target in the middle of the night. Based on this, there is a very high possibility that Vietnamese police exceeded their boundaries in the Dong Tam attack.
6. According to police, the residents of Dong Tam, particularly the family of Mr. Le Dinh Kinh, had stored weapons. If police had not moved to attack and disarm them, then what if these individuals used the weapons to commit heinous acts, like terrorism?
First off, it must be made clear that many objects could be used to kill a person (bomb, gun, knife, sword, club, scissors, rope, laptop, etc.), some of which are normal, everyday objects.
In actuality, in the Dong Tam affair, it was only after the village had been completely surrounded did police begin collecting “weapons” from Dong Tam residents as proof of storage and posting pictures on the MPS website the next morning. Many of the “weapons” pictured were simply rocks, household knives and scissors, and gas containers, which could hardly be seen as weapons being stored for nefarious purposes.
As pointed out above, police carrying out the law must follow proper procedure, also known as “due process”. To attack a (civil) target like Dong Tam, police must have sufficient evidence that residents were storing weapons prior, evidence which must be gathered legally and properly.
To carry out the attack itself, police must also follow proper procedure, by issuing warnings beforehand, and weighing all possible factors, requirements, and related circumstances before firing. In simplest terms, even if police suddenly discovered that a terrorist had kidnapped a hostage, for example, they must cordon off the area, persuade the culprit over loudspeaker to surrender, and negotiate… long before they ever attack the individual.
4“International Human Rights Standards for Law Enforcement” and Section 18, General Comment of UN Human Rights Committee on Article 6 of ICCPR.
Furthermore, all individuals have a right to life, along with the right to legitimate self-defense. If threatened or robbed in one’s home in the middle of the night, then one has the right to defend oneself by any means necessary.
7. But the residents of Dong Tam issued threats first. It was they who recorded video announcing that they would attack the police, which they posted online. “We promise that if we don’t kill 300- 500 men, then we won’t see you again, compatriots. This time, if they’re determined to kill me, then they must die as well. This is our vow as Dong Tam residents.” So, when police took the initiative to attack them, then isn’t that legitimate self-defense?
If someone says “you guys are asking nonsense questions, if you ask anymore, I’ll beat you to death,” can you show up on their doorstep with a gun and claim “self-defense”?
The residents said – and it’s entirely possible that they were simply exaggerating or “flexing” their muscles to intimidate their opponents – that they would kill “300-500 men”, then police suddenly show up with a large number of armed officers in the middle of the night and begin firing. Would you call that legitimate self-defense?
But if we reverse the situation and someone noisily barged into your house in the middle of the night (uninvited), then you would have a legitimate right to self-defense, by any means necessary.
8. In the Dong Tam affair, police were not robbers or thieves. They were carrying out their duties, which may have included land repossession or eliminating criminals…
Duties must still be legitimate and legal; if anything, the more it is a duty, the more legitimate and legal it must be. Land repossession in this case is not legitimate (it was performed in the middle of the night, outside of administrative hours, in violation of the Land Law). To say it was to eliminate criminals is even more incorrect because no crime had been identified previously. (Compare the police attack on Dong Tam with their deadly pursuit of Tuan “the Monkey” – the wanted murder suspect. Which attack was legitimate?)
Equally as important is the issue of legality. A legal duty must always be conveyed by administrative document that defines the duty as well as the legal basis for it. In the Dong Tam case, the authorities announced that they had a plan to ensure local security and order (during the time frame of the attack), but in actuality, this plan has never been publicly revealed. During the trial itself, defense lawyers had asked repeatedly for the government to be transparent about this plan.
9. According to the results of the police investigation, Dong Tam residents, in particular, members of Mr. Le Dinh Kinh’s family, killed three police officers in a very barbaric way. After they finished immolating the officers, they even said “smells good, huh.” That is a crime and must be punished seriously.
Police are the party responsible for the attack. They are also the party in charge of apprehending people, interrogating them, gathering evidence, watching over the scene of the crime, and establishing the results of the investigation. The entire process is carried out entirely by police, without any independent, third-party witnesses, as stipulated by law. In such a situation, can police be objective? What could guarantee that?
Don’t forget that Mr. Le Dinh Kinh’s entire family was taken away without a trace the night of the attack on Dong Tam. Afterwards, some were slowly released, but still more were arrested. By June 9, 2020, exactly 5 months after the attack, a total of 29 individuals remained behind bars, cut off from all contact (except with police).
Among them, several have “gone on TV” and confessed (on the VTV 7 o’ clock evening news, January 13, 2020), with bruised and swollen faces—marks of torture. Do you think those who are in police custody are able to say anything other than what police want them to say?
And don’t you think police, who have absolute control over the entire investigation process, would have the capability to fabricate whole stories and include quotes like “smells good, huh”?
That’s why in matters where police are involved in a dispute (and may have possibly committed crimes themselves), there must be an independent, third-party investigation in order to ensure fairness.
III. BACKGROUND OF THE DONG TAM LAND DISPUTE Source: BBC Vietnamese
Translation and modifications: Dong Tam Task Force
The Dong Tam event involves two contiguous pieces of land, hereafter referred to as the Eastern Part (47.36 hectares) and the Western Part (59 hectares).5
In 1980, the then-deputy prime minister Do Muoi issued Decision 113-TTg, dated April 14, 1980, reclaiming 208 hectares of land, including the 47.36-hectare Eastern Part, for the Mieu Mon Airport project.6
On November 10, 1981, the People’s Committee of then-Ha Son Binh province issued Decision 386 QD/UB, initiating the first phase of the project. The Eastern Part was to be developed as Mieu Mon Airport and was consensually transferred from Dong Tam residents to Brigade 28 of the Air Defense and Air Force Corps, who represented the central government in the transfer.7
Ultimately, no phase of the Mieu Mon Airport project was ever carried out, and the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) simply rented the Eastern Part to local people for farming. This 47.36-hectare piece of land became the only area in Dong Tam commune that was officially reclaimed with compensation.8
The Western Part is used by Dong Tam residents, who call it “Senh Field” (in written Vietnamese: Cánh Đồng Sênh).
Disputes began to arise when PAVN transferred the Eastern Part to Viettel Corporation, a military owned telecommunications company. As it did so, PAVN tried to claim the Western Part too.9 Dong Tam residents objected, arguing that the Western Part was their agricultural land, which meant that either Viettel or PAVN must compensate them at a premium.
PAVN and Viettel, on the contrary, insisted that the whole area was reserved for national defense and security and argued for a lower rate. Viettel, in particular, has provided inconsistent information: in a meeting with village leader Le Dinh Kinh, the company told him that My Duc district authorities had sold the land to the corporation; thus, there would be no compensation for residents.10
PAVN and Viettel prevailed, with support from the Hanoi authorities. On October 20, 2014, Vu Hong Khanh, the then-deputy chair of the Hanoi People’s Committee, issued Decision #5383 reclaiming 236 hectares of “Mieu Mon project land” for Brigade 28 to build military premises,11 exceeding the 208 hectares originally claimed in 1980. The brigade, however, amended the decision three days later, saying it only possessed 208 hectares, not 236.
The Dong Tam community’s arguments and actions
The residents of Dong Tam insist that 100 percent of the 59 acres of the Western Part (Senh Field) is the commune’s agricultural land. Therefore, if Viettel wants to use it, they are obligated to pay compensation as required by law.
In May 2016, the Hanoi People’s Committee issued Document #2590 to four bodies: the Hanoi Department of Natural Resources and Environment, the City’s Directing Board for Site Clearance, the People’s Committee of My Duc district, and Viettel. Pursuant to this legal document, Viettel shall “pay relocation compensations”.12
Local residents have argued that if Senh Field was indeed land for national defense purposes, then why would the Hanoi authorities insist Viettel pay residents “relocation compensation” rather than fining them for “occupying land meant for national defense purposes”?
Furthermore, when news of the potential land reclamation was leaked in 2014, Dong Tam residents made a complaint to the Mieu Mon Airport developer: the Air Defense and Air Force Corps. The Corps referred the complainants to Hanoi’s civic bodies to resolve the matter. The response indicated to residents that PAVN had already recognized Senh Field as “civic land”.
9 Official government reports avoid distinguishing the Eastern and Western parts, referring to the entire parcel as one piece of land at all times.
10 Village leader Le Dinh Kinh was an integral witness to the decades-long land dispute from the very beginning, and many suspect this was why government forces killed him.
Last but not least, Dong Tam residents have quoted documents issued by the Hanoi authorities in the early 1980s (cited above) that said the total area of land in Dong Tam for national defense purposes was 236 hectares while Brigade 28, in charge of the Mieu Mon Airport project, admitted it only possessed 208 hectares. Residents have wondered why there was a difference of 28 hectares between these two numbers given by government authorities.
The government’s arguments and actions
The government insists that the whole area (both the Eastern and Western Parts) are lands for national defense purposes.
On July 3, 2017, Hanoi mayor and former major-general Nguyen Duc Chung asked the City Council to withdraw their proposal to “resettle and relocate people [living] in Senh Field”, saying “those people do not need relocating [because they have their own houses elsewhere].”13 Four days later, the Hanoi Inspectorate issued a draft of their conclusion,14 predictably siding with the government. The inspectorate stated that the whole of the land near Dong Tam, including both the Eastern and Western Parts, were lands for national defense purposes. It even implied that there was, for all practical purposes, no “Eastern” or “Western Part”.
The inspectorate also blamed local authorities for their “mismanagement” in wrongfully giving the green light for local people to encroach upon project land. It explained away the 28-hectare difference mentioned in Decision #5383 as “a result of the execution process of the project” (sic), even though no phase of the Mieu Mon Airport project has ever been executed.
13 https://dantri.com.vn/xa-hoi/ha-noi-rut-du-an-thu-hoi-dat-tai-dinh-cu-o-xa-dong-tam-20170703114227262.htm 14 https://vietnamnet.vn/vn/thoi-su/thanh-tra-ha-noi-59-ha-dat-dong-senh-la-dat-quoc-phong-382550.html#inner article
IV. CHRONOLOGY OF THE DONG TAM LAND DISPUTE
1980 The government reclaims the 47.36-hectare piece of land from Dong Tam residents for their Mieu Mon Airport project.
2014 In Dong Tam, the Ministry of National Defense gives Viettel “land for national defense purposes” to build a factory.
2017 April 15: The Hanoi police invite representatives of Dong Tam village to come measure the border between “the military land” and “the agricultural land”. When the four representatives come, they are arrested and taken away without written warrants. One of them, village leader Le Dinh Kinh, b. 1936, is brutally beaten and has one of his legs broken.15
Local people come to the rescue and a clash with police breaks out. More police are deployed to disperse the angry crowd; 38 police officers of a special task force are captured and held hostage.16
April 22: Hanoi mayor Nguyen Duc Chung and a delegation come to Dong Tam commune to “negotiate” with the villagers. In the end, the hostages are released, and Chung makes a written promise that no criminal proceedings would be conducted against those involved in the event. Some observers doubt such a promise, stating that because Chung was a government official and a representative of the executive branch, he could not speak on behalf of the court and that his pledge was basically meaningless.
June 13: The police launch a criminal investigation against the Dong Tam farmers involved in the hostage situation, despite the previous promise by mayor Nguyen Duc Chung not to prosecute any of them.17
July 07: The Hanoi Inspectorate issues a draft of their “conclusion on the Dong Tam land inspection”, declaring that the whole area is land for national defense purposes.18 Mr. Bui Van Kinh, a representative of Dong Tam village, disagrees, saying they inherited Senh Field from their grandparents during French colonial times. The Hanoi authorities, however, insist that no land should be owned by any specific “grandparents” or “previous generation” as all Vietnamese land is owned by the Vietnamese people.19
15 Account can be corroborated by Dong Tam residents as well as members of the Dong Tam Task Force. Due to the fact that our sources in Dong Tam are still under threat from Vietnam’s security forces, we have refrained from identifying witnesses in this public report.
16 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/21/world/asia/vietnam-hostages-protest-land-dispute-eviction.html 17 https://tuoitre.vn/khoi-to-dieu-tra-vu-bat-nguoi-trai-phap-luat-tai-xa-dong-tam-1331049.htm 18https://vietnamnet.vn/vn/thoi-su/thanh-tra-ha-noi-59-ha-dat-dong-senh-la-dat-quoc-phong-382550.html#inner article
July 25: The Hanoi Inspectorate confirms their final “conclusion on the Dong Tam land inspection”.
2018 April 15: Dong Tam residents send a letter to the 7th Plenum of the 12th Party Central Committee, in which they reaffirm to the Politburo and the Party Central Committee that “[t]he people of Dong Tam commune, including both members and non-members of the VCP, are no dissidents. We the people have no intention or act of overthrowing or disparaging the government. We only detest the corrupt and are determined to fight them, even if that means we have to suffer bloodshed and loss of life.”20 The letter receives no reply.
2020 January 4: Vu Hung (b. 1966), a former high school physics teacher and prisoner of conscience, writes on his Facebook page: “S.O.S. Last night [January 3], a middle aged man in a jacket and dark-colored trousers, driving an automatic transmission motorcycle, met me at my house. He showed me his ID card as proof that he works at the prime minister’s office. He asked me to warn the public that corrupt officials and interest groups have been discussing day and night grabbing the 59-hectare Senh Field in Dong Tam, My Duc district, Hanoi before the lunar new year. So, given the fact that I and other democracy activists are being watched closely by police, I am writing these lines on my Facebook so that together we, with our legitimate cause, can use the power of media to stop the evil hands of aggressors.”21
January 9: Police launch an aggressive operation against Dong Tam, beginning around 1 AM and ending at 5 AM.22
One of the lawyers who provides legal counsel to the Dong Tam community, Mr. Ngo Anh Tuan, tries to access the scene but is aggressively turned away by police. Tuan recounts the story on his Facebook page, under a post titled “Thoughtless people under the guise of people in official duties.”23
In the morning, the official news portal of the MPS announces that local people “actively attacked” police officers while security forces were building a fence around the Mieu Mon Airport worksite, three kilometers away from the residences in Dong Tam commune, where the police operation actually took place.24
January 10: State President and Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong signs a decision to grant the honorary title of “martyr” to the three policemen allegedly killed in the attack. Given only 24 hours had passed following their deaths, this is an unprecedented decision, as reviewing and granting the title of “martyr” usually takes years.
20 The letter was not mentioned in Vietnam’s state-run media but only reported by media overseas, such as Tieng Dan (Voice of the People): https://baotiengdan.com/2018/04/19/nguoi-dan-dong-tam-gui-tam-thu-toi-hoi-nghi trung-uong-7/
21 https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2592564880857536&set=a.730681957045847&type=3&theater 22 According to eyewitness and citizen-journalist accounts
23 https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10215604090646565&set=pb.1569759542.- 2207520000..&type=3&theater
In the afternoon, the Dong Tam commune People’s Committee return the house to the family.25
Hanoi police investigators initiate criminal proceedings against the detained Dong Tam residents for “murder, illegally storing weapons, and obstructing officials”. Major General To An Xo, chief of the MPS Secretariat, quotes the Hanoi police report, stating that “Le Dinh Kinh resisted,” “Kinh was found dead holding a grenade,” and “Kinh was the leader of the plot to resist and attack the authorities.”26
January 11: Luat Khoa Magazine, an independent journal on jurisprudence, sends a letter to General To Lam, head of the MPS, with an inquiry regarding the Dong Tam attack.
Authorities in Can Tho city arrest Chung Hoang Chuong, b. 1977, under the charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the state’s interests” for his online postings about the Dong Tam event.27
The police return Kinh’s body to his family. Le Thi Nhung, Kinh’s daughter, tells activist Nguyen Thi Tam (Duong Noi farmer) in an interview that Kinh was shot in the heart and head, with one leg barely hanging on; it appears as though he was also shot in the knee. Police heavily pressure the family to sign forms “confirming” that Kinh died on Senh Field, even though he was shot and killed in his bedroom. The interview is reposted by Radio Free Asia (RFA). At the time, Mrs. Thanh (Kinh’s wife), Nhung, and the remaining women in the family have no information regarding the men who have been arrested and do not know whether they are dead or alive.28
January 13: Police block all roads to Dong Tam, preventing people from attending Mr. Le Dinh Kinh’s funeral. No cameras are allowed at the funeral. One villager was threatened by police with assault as he tried to film the funeral with his cell phone.29
A video clip leaks from Dong Tam showing Mrs. Du Thi Thanh, Le Dinh Kinh’s wife, declaring in tears that she was tortured and coerced into testifying that her husband was using a grenade.30 Many fear that she may be killed as a witness.
Several detainees appear in an evening news broadcast by the state-owned National Television of Vietnam (VTV) with bruised faces, ostensibly admitting guilt and blaming Mr. Le Dinh Kinh for “abetting” them in fighting and killing police officers.
25 https://vietnamnet.vn/vn/thoi-su/vu-dong-tam-mieu-mon-ban-giao-thi-the-ong-le-dinh-kinh-cho-nguoi-than 608260.html#inner-article
26https://tuoitre.vn/khoi-to-vu-an-voi-3-toi-danh-xay-ra-tai-xa-dong-tam-20200110160836281.htm 27https://vietnamnet.vn/vn/phap-luat/ho-so-vu-an/bat-giu-chu-tai-khoan-chuong-may-man-xuyen-tac-vu-dong-tam 608630.html
28 RFA’s interview with Le Thi Nhung: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71Cv1fbOjbw&t=3s&has_verified=1 29 According to eyewitness and citizen-journalist accounts
30 English subtitles added by activist Dinh Thi Phuong Thao:
January 14: The MPS holds a press conference to provide “official information” to the media. Lieutenant General Luong Tam Quang, deputy head of the MPS, says the three police officers were killed after they fell into a sky well in Mr. Le Dinh Kinh’s residence and were allegedly set on fire by Kinh’s family members. Notably, what Quang says during the conference differs from the official announcement published by the MPS’ news portal on January 9 that local people “actively attacked” police officers at a site three kilometers away from Kinh’s house.
January 15: State-run media falsely implicate activists Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thuy Hanh in the attack, accusing them of “inciting” Dong Tam residents.
January 17: The Commercial Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam (Vietcombank) announces the freeze of Nguyen Thuy Hanh’s account, which has accumulated more than 500 million VND (US$22,000) of condolence money sent to Le Dinh Kinh’s family. An announcement by the MPS on their website says the account was frozen “in order to facilitate the [Dong Tam] investigation and with the aim of preventing the financing of terrorism.” However, account owner Nguyen Thuy Hanh herself has never been notifiedby either Vietcombank or the MPS about the freeze.
The public is outraged. A campaign to boycott Vietcombank is launched later in the day with thousands of clients withdrawing their money from the bank.31
January 18: A group of five domestic and overseas Vietnamese activists launch a crowdfunding campaign, “Joining hands to help our people at Dong Tam,” using the online platform GoFundMe.32 The website is blocked after just a few hours and Vietnamese internet users struggle to circumvent the firewall. However, by January 24 when the campaign comes to an end, it manages to raise US$39,484, almost twice as much as the amount originally frozen.
January 21: A group of elderly activists and democracy advocates, including teacher Vu Hung and Dr. Nguyen Quang A, go to the Hanoi People’s Procuracy to submit to the government their denunciation of Le Dinh Kinh’s killing. A government worker at the office criticizes them for “complicating the issue” given the “on-going investigation process.” 33
January 29: Du Thi Thanh, Le Dinh Kinh’s wife, appears in self-recorded video recounting the Dong Tam event.34 She describes how police attacked her residence around 3 AM with tear gas and guns, then broke into the house, beating up her children and grandchildren before arresting all of them. She says her husband Le
34 Posted on activist Can Thi Theu’s facebook page:
Dinh Kinh was still alive when she was taken away, though he might have suffered from respiratory pain caused by the tear gas.
January 31: The MPS nominates 10 Hanoi police officers for various positions, including senior lieutenant Dang Viet Quang, who is promoted from Vice-head of the Criminal Division to Vice-chief of Investigation – Hanoi City Police. Quang is the officer who shot and killed Le Dinh Kinh.
February 5: A group of overseas Vietnamese in Japan hand-deliver a petition to Mizuho Bank headquarters (which owns 15% of Vietcombank), demanding Mizuho pressure Vietcombank into unfreezing Nguyen Thuy Hanh’s account and returning the donated money to Le Dinh Kinh’s family.35
February 6: Land rights activist and member of the Dong Tam Task Force, Trinh Ba Phuong, meets with three members of the US Embassy’s political office to convey the events that occurred at Dong Tam and share concerns Vietnamese citizens have about the aftermath.
In addition to passing a handwritten letter written by Le Dinh Kinh’s wife, Du Thi Thanh, which contained a roster of detained Dong Tam residents, Phuong also shared citizens’ demands for an independent investigation into the attack to establish truth and justice, as well as the imposition of the Magnitsky Act for those officials involved in ordering the attack.36
March 3: Mrs. Du Thi Thanh, elder Le Dinh Kinh’s widow, submits to the authorities a petition to initiate criminal proceedings for the murder of her husband, requesting investigation and clarification according to Paragraph 1, Article 123 of the 2015 Penal Code (modified and supplemented in 2017).
June 12: Hanoi police announce that they have completed the investigation into the “public order disturbance” in Dong Tam commune and have transferred the file to the People’s Procuracy of Hanoi, recommending criminal proceedings against 29 accused. 25 are charged with murder and the remaining four charged with obstruction of officials. The Investigative Result, coded 210 /KLĐT-PC01, was made on June 05, 2020.
June 24: In Duong Noi, Hanoi investigators conduct an early morning house raid, arresting two activists: Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam. Simultaneously, Hoa Binh province investigators arrest activist Can Thi Theu (Phuong’s mother) and Trinh Ba Tu (Phuong’s younger brother) in Hoa Binh. The four are charged with “[producing, storing, and disseminating] anti-state propaganda”. Theu, Phuong and Tu are members of the Dong Tam Task Force.
June 27: The People’s Procuracy of Hanoi promulgates Indictment #241/CT-VKS P2, “charging 29 with murder and obstruction of officials” in Hoanh village, Dong
Tam commune, My Duc suburban district. 25 are charged with murder; four are charged with obstruction of officials.
August 25: The People’s Court of Hanoi announces that it will begin the trial for the “murder and obstruction of officials in Dong Tam” on September 7.
August 28: The Chairman of the People’s Committee of Hanoi — Major-general Nguyen Duc Chung — is arrested. He had been previously suspended from work August 11. Major-general To An Xo reported that Chung had been arrested in relation to three different cases (none of which included Dong Tam).
September 6: Major-general To An Xo asserts in an interview with Vietnam News Agency that Dong Tam is “a serious case… many suspects violated the law with their rash and barbaric behavior, upsetting the general public.” Xo calls Le Dinh Kinh the “ringleader”, “a new kind of village bully-landlord, the consequence of substantial decay among a number of party cadres.”
September 7: The People’s Court of Hanoi begins the Dong Tam trial.
September 10: After court lets out, lawyers Dang Dinh Manh, Nguyen Van Mieng, and Ngo Anh Tuan are harassed and shoved by plainclothes police, who tail and threaten them for a short period. That evening, police arrive at Dang Dinh Manh and Nguyen Van Mieng’s hotel, harassing the two and keeping watch on them through the night. Police even break into their room and rummage through their belongings.
September 13: Mrs. Du Thi Thanh, Le Dinh Kinh’s widow, sends Luat Khoa Magazine a short home recording, urgently requesting the state to conduct a forensic investigation of the crime scene. “I’m prepared to jump down into the sky well to test the fire. I contend that a person cannot be burned to ashes in that sky well as the indictment falsely asserts.”
September 14: Mrs. Du Thi Thanh submits an urgent letter, accusing Major-general To An Xo of “a serious affront to the soul of a deceased” for calling elder Le Dinh Kinh “a new kind of village bully-landlord.”
At approximately 4:30 PM, the People’s Court of Hanoi sentences Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc to death, and Le Dinh Doanh to life in prison.
V. GOVERNMENT RESPONSE: INCONSISTENT INFORMATION AND SUPPRESSION
1. Regarding the attack the night of January 8 and early morning of the 9th
On the morning of January 9, the front page of the Ministry of Public Security’s webpage reported on the “public order disturbance and obstruction of officials in Dong Tam commune, My Duc suburban district, Hanoi”:
“Beginning December 31, 2019, a number of Ministry of Defense units worked in tandem with the authorities to carry out the construction of a protective wall around Mien Mon Airport (Hanoi), as planned.
In the process of construction, on the morning of January 9, 2020, a number of recalcitrant individuals used grenades, Molotov cocktails, and machetes… to attack the authorities, obstruct officials, and disturb public order, resulting in the martyred deaths of three police officers and one resisting suspect, and injuring another suspect”.
This report did not identify the names of those who died and did not mention the attack on Hoanh village and in particular, Le Dinh Kinh’s private residence. This intitial content is completely different from the truth that has been (implicitly) acknowledged presently: the truth is that the attack was not one of residents on the army building a wall at Mieu Mon Airport, but rather, one of police on the residents of Hoanh village.
2. Regarding the charges against residents
At the start, government-affiliated webpages consistently criminalized the residents of Dong Tam, especially Le Dinh Kinh and his children, whom they referred to as “terrorists”. For example, the webpage “Egret’s Wing” published an article (10:33 AM, the morning of January 10, 2020) titled “The Dong Tam Affair: No compromise with Le Dinh Kinh and the evil terrorists.”37 In it, author Nguyen Huy Toan writes: “It was very painful when they were stabbed by the machetes and incinerated to ashes by the Molotov cocktails… One should remember, police arrived in Dong Tam not to coerce anyone but to limit Le Dinh Kinh and his gang from instigating resistance against the building of the Mieu Mon Airport wall that the army and local people were carrying out”.
By police request, Vietcombank froze the account of Nguyen Thuy Hanh, who had collected more than 500 million VND (~ 21,500 USD) in funds for Le Dinh Kinh’s wake, citing “the prevention of terrorist support” as the reason.
However, after Hanoi City Police investigators presented their report on the event, the word “terrorist” was no referenced. The residents of Dong Tam were tried for two (other) crimes: “murder” and “obstruction of officials”. (Despite this, Vietcombank has refused to unfreeze Nguyen Thuy Hanh’s account and return the more than 500 million VND.)
3. Regarding Le Dinh Kinh’s death
a) Circumstances at time of death
On the night of January 10, Major-general To An Xo – MPS Main Office spokesperson – confirmed that “among the suspects who obstructed officials, the person who died was Le Dinh Kinh”.38
All state newspapers reported the same: “According to Hanoi police reports, at the time of autopsy, Le Dinh Kinh was holding a grenade. Testimony of a number of arrestees confirmed that Le Dinh Kinh was the ringleader, spearheading resistance against the authorities and violating the law in the Dong Tam affair.”
When voices on social media pointed out the impossibility of someone who was shot dead holding onto a grenade all the way to… the autopsy, police and the authorities remained silent, offering no explanation.
When they returned Le Dinh Kinh’s body to the family, police pressured the family to sign papers claiming Kinh died on Senh Field, but the family refused.
b) Cause of death
Du Thi Thanh’s petition for criminal proceedings, in which she requested the authorities investigate the cause of her husband’s death, received no response.
Meanwhile, on January 11, Hanoi police investigators took the testimony of Senior lieutenant colonel Dang Viet Quang (born 1975, Vice-head of Hanoi City Police’s Criminal Division), in which Quang confirmed to have shot dead a “gray-haired male subject” without knowing it was Le Dinh Kinh. However, Quang also attested earlier that he and “his unit of about four comrades approached the front iron gate of Le Dinh Kinh’s house. Comrade Cong in K20 drew the latch, opening the gate…”
This means that Hanoi City Police knew from the start that Le Dinh Kinh died from being shot, that he died in place in his private residence, and that they also knew who shot him. But this information was kept absolutely confidential until the preliminary trial indicting 29 Dong Tam residents (September 7-14, 2020) when Dang Viet Quang’s testimony in some way leaked out.
4. Information warfare39
Around 3 AM on January 9, 2020, that is, when the attack was ongoing, state media kicked into high gear to monopolize information, concealing and distorting the truth. This “information offensive” included four main forces:
• mainstream media (television, radio, print and periodicals, etc.);
• Facebook users with large followings and ad-hoc public-opinion shapers;
39 Contributing author of this section: Journalist Nguyen Dan
• unofficial webpages;
• standing public-opinion brigades.
The firing salvo for the information war was a post on a Facebook profile named “Nhu Quynh”, (supposedly) run by the wife of one of the three police officers killed in the attack. The post mourned the loss of her husband (now known to be Lieutenant Pham Quoc Huy, b. 1993): “Oh my husband—of 3 thousand officers, why did it have to be you?” The status was paired with a picture of a young happy couple, the man wearing a police uniform. It spread quickly and as of the preliminary trial in September, got 27,000 reactions, 3,500 shares, and more than 2,400 comments. Most of the comments expressed compassion for the two and outrage for the Hoanh (Dong Tam) villagers— except it was all orchestrated by Vietnam’s opinion brigades to incite the general public, using loaded language.
Internet users quickly noted that this woman’s Facebook profile was highly suspicious, containing no information except for online shopping ads. Some people pointed out that “Nhu Quynh” kept promoting her online business even immediately after her “husband’s” death, which is unusual.
Concurrently, a series of KOLs (key opinion leaders) and unofficial webpages, together with the “ferocity” of the public-opinion brigades, rapid-fired fake news mixed with truth, producing articles, comments, quibbles, grievances, and falsehoods regarding the “spontaneous cruelty” of Le Dinh Kinh’s family and Hoanh villagers.
On another front, mainstream media enthusiastically propagandized the Dong Tam attack on a daily basis, presenting one-sided information that claimed the authorities had marched on Dong Tam in order to ensure law and order during the construction of a wall around the army’s Mieu Mon Airport, rather than to arrest Le Dinh Kinh or anyone else in Dong Tam commune. From the start, it was Kinh and villagers who hurled at police forces Molotov cocktails, fireworks, grenades, and then later, metal bars tipped with knives. And most significantly, when Le Dinh Chuc discovered that an officer had fallen down a sky well, he directed Le Dinh Doanh to pour gasoline from a can into pots that had fabric pre-tied, lit them, and then threw them into hole with the officer inside.
Besides monopolizing information, the government has also exercised all means to suppress and control its flow. In the months following the attack, authorities completely blockaded Dong Tam commune, not allowing any suspicious persons to investigate the crime scene. Unfamiliar faces were hassled and chased off by a group of young ruffians not from the village. Villagers themselves began to hesitate talking to strangers, and a tense atmosphere overtook Hoanh village.
However, this was not able to completely prevent witnesses, residents, social activists, and independent journalists from bravely finding ways to reveal the truth on social media. These individuals have since been attacked, arrested, and even held in detention by the authorities. Police have also arrested a number of residents in Can Tho, Quang Ngai, and Dak Nong for speaking up about the Dong Tam incident and expressing views contrary to the government’s version of events.
Among those arrested are Trinh Ba Phuong and his entire family, including his mother Can Thi Theu and younger brother Trinh Ba Tu. All three were well-known land rights activists and actively conveyed information regarding Dong Tam; they were arrested by the government on June 24, 2020. In a livestream video just before his arrest, Trinh Ba Phuong stated: “Uniformed and
plainclothes police have surrounded my house in droves. It is currently 5:30 in the morning. I believe they are going to arrest me today.”
Afterwards, the police broke the lock on the door, rushed in, and took Phuong away. His second son had only been born a few days earlier, on June 20, and had not yet been named.
Facebook itself has contributed to the government’s suppression campaign. Vietnamese authorities have succeeded in pressuring Facebook to delete videos and posts regarding the Dong Tam incident, while public opinion brigades have worked in tandem to disable or freeze numerous Facebook accounts.
For instance, political analyst Bui Van Thuan had his Facebook content restricted beginning January 8, just before the January 9 attack. Activist La Viet Dung said he had tried nine times to post a clip filming the return of Le Dinh Kinh’s body to the family; it was deleted from Facebook everytime he posted it. After the ninth removal, Facebook’s administration team warned him of permanent account deactivation if he carried on, and Dung gave up.
Trinh Ba Phuong’s and Trinh Ba Tu’s Facebook accounts were both taken down after their arrests.
VI. POINTS OF CONTENTION AROUND THE DONG TAM ATTACK
The overarching narrative that the MPS and state-run media have tried to establish is that the whole of the disputed land in Dong Tam has always been designated for national defense purposes, but the greedy residents of Dong Tam have occupied it and denied its transfer to the state corporation Viettel.
Regarding the January 9 attack specifically, the government has tried to sway public opinion by falsely reframing the authorities as victims of an ambush led by a group of resistant Dong Tam farmers. The ambushers retreated into leader Le Dinh Kinh’s house, where they entrenched themselves. After brutally killing three police officers, the recalcitrant farmers were finally defeated by police.
The details regarding the deaths of the three police officers have changed over time. On January 9, the government said the three police officers were stabbed, but on January 14 at a press conference, Luong Tam Quang said they fell into a sky well where “terrorists” then burned them alive.
Shortly after news of the Dong Tam attack appeared on pages operated by government-hired du luan vien (public opinion shapers),40 Facebook users began to point out inconsistences and contradictions in the narrative provided by the government and its supporters.
1. Why an attack after midnight?
Originally, the police said that it was they themselves who were attacked by a group of “resistant farmers” from Dong Tam as they were trying to build a fence around the Mieu Mon Airport worksite, three kilometers from Dong Tam commune. When they fought back, this group of farmers ran and hid in Le Dinh Kinh’s residence, where police finally vanquished them.
The official story begs several questions: why did police cut off all power, internet, and phone lines in Dong Tam commune before supposedly “being attacked”? And why did police concurrently deploy vehicles full of special task force officers to the commune?
2. Who were the real attackers and who were the real victims?
On January 2, 2020, one week before the attack, Nguyen Viet Anh (b. 1990, Le Dinh Quang’s cousin) sent Quang a secretly-filmed video clip that showed police forces conducting a simulated attack against Dong Tam. Quang then forwarded this video clip to Le Dinh Cong (Kinh’s son).
Results of the Hanoi City Police investigation released in June stated, “Upon receiving this information, Le Dinh Kinh, Le Dinh Cong, Bui Viet Hieu, Nguyen Van Tuyen and other subjects met many times to discuss and plan their resistance against the police.” This statement implicitly confirms that police did have a plan to attack Dong Tam, which leaked to the villagers one week prior
40 Head of the Hanoi Party Committee’s Propaganda Department, Ho Quang Loi, in a meeting on January 9, 2013 to review press activities in 2012, said the department had set up a force of 900 du luan vien in Hanoi alone “to fully exploit the power of propagandists.” This was the earliest known use of the term. The Propaganda Department, Loi added, also succeeded in building “teams of professionals” to directly participate in pen wars against dissidents on the internet.
to the operation. Nguyen Viet Anh himself was arrested and has not been heard from since the Dong Tam attack.
Five days before the attack, Hanoi Facebook user Vu Hung said a man from the prime minister’s office relied on him to warn the public that “corrupt officials and interest groups have been discussing day and night grabbing the 59-hectare Senh Field in Dong Tam, My Duc district, Hanoi before the lunar new year.” (Vietnam’s lunar new year 2020 falls on January 24-27).
This piece of information reinforces the notion that the attack on Dong Tam was pre-meditated and government-led, rather than Dong Tam residents allegedly ambushing and descending upon government authorities doing their job at the Mieu Mon Airport worksite.
Furthermore, a few hours before the internet was cut in Dong Tam, residents conveyed on Facebook news of a potential attack. A number of activists were ready to live-report such an attack online, the most prominent of whom were Trinh Ba Phuong, Phan Van Bach, and Bui Thi Minh Hang.41 They provided real-time updates on the attack, calling for help and pleading for users to “save Dong Tam” until early the next morning, when Phuong was arrested by police and Bach had his page shut down by internet trolls who mass-reported “violations”. Bui Thi Minh Hang, an activist and former prisoner of conscience living in Vung Tau, accused local police of intentionally transmitting low voltage electricity through her front gate and the outer walls of her house, slightly electrocuting her. When she tried to get out to seek help, around 50 policemen waiting outside violently arrested her and kept her in the nearby police station until day’s end.42
Most notably, though violent land evictions have become increasingly common in Vietnam the last two decades, the Dong Tam attack was unique in the sense that it involved an enormous number of du luan vien from the beginning. After the attack began around 3 AM, social media networks, most notably Facebook, quickly began filling with posts and comments by du luan vien manipulating the public into thinking that the police simply attacked and vanquished a group of terrorists in Dong Tam. Most of the comments were disparaging, using terribly crude language against government critics or anyone who sympathized with the residents of Dong Tam. A record number of du luan vien were mobilized, many of whose Facebook pages were newly created accounts with fake names.43
The actions listed above suggest that the Dong Tam attack was a large-scale, organized police effort that required days of preparation. In Vietnam, such actions can only be ordered by a high-level government body.
3. The mysterious deaths of three police officers
Originally, an online photo spread virally showing a body burnt almost completely, with du luan vien commenting that it was the body of a police officer whom “terrorists” set fire to using petrol bombs. However, this image has been completely scrubbed from the internet and was not submitted into the case file.
41 Account can be corroborated by Dong Tam residents as well as members of the Dong Tam Task Force. 42 Account can be corroborated by a member of the Dong Tam Task Force, who is in direct contact with Hang. 43 Account can be corroborated by members of the Dong Tam Task Force, as well as other Vietnamese civil society activists.
Skeptics pointed out that an average human body takes two to three hours to burn completely; how could the police (well-equipped with shields, protective gear, and fire extinguisher…) let one of their “comrades” burn for such a long time without any effort to extinguish the fire?
Moreover, the ground and walls of the house were not charred as they should have been had there been such a fire. Many commentators also doubted that petrol bombs, typically made of a 20 oz. bottle containing kerosene, could ignite such a large, uncontrollable fire.
In a press conference on the morning of January 14, Lieutenant General Luong Tam Quang, deputy head of the MPS, said the three police officers were killed after they fell into a four-meter skylight in Le Dinh Kinh’s residence and were allegedly set on fire by Kinh’s family members. Again, skeptics raised the question of why the walls around the sky well were not charred. The question remains unanswered by the authorities.
On the other hand, bullet holes fired by police were found in abundance on the ceilings and walls of Le Dinh Kinh’s residence.44
Witness accounts also confirm that Dong Tam residents were incapacitated by thick chemical clouds of tear gas; they were unable to hide or escape from police, much less fight back. None of the villagers could explain how three policemen were allegedly “killed” in Dong Tam.
4. Why no forensic investigation of the crime scene?
Though plagued by questions, the deaths of the three police officers was seen as the most pressing reason for the authorities to prosecute the case of “murder and obstruction of officials”, which ultimately saw Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc sentenced to death. And despite this, investigators have yet to carry out any forensic investigation of the crime scene. During the preliminary trial, lawyers defending the rights of the three police officers, the Procuracy, and the court uniformly refused demands for a forensic investigation.
Lawyer Nguyen Hong Bach (who defended the three deceased police officers) stated: “Who would dare to climb down that sky well, for others to pour gasoline on? We can’t very well use animals either! I feel we cannot recreate such a gruesome crime scene. Not every case needs to have the crime scene recreated; doing so would only bring pain to the officers’ families.”
Prosecutor Lai Viet Dong stated: “I agree with lawyer Bach’s explanation…. Suspicions over the three officers’ cause of death are groundless… a forensic investigation is not necessary.”
In Vietnam, forensic investigations are normal affairs and have been carried out regularly on serious cases. It is difficult to understand why a necessary and important formality such as this is completely neglected in the case of Dong Tam.
5. Storing weapons
The police, in trying to persuade the public that they were attempting to subdue a “terrorist threat”, insist that they collected a great number of “lethal weapons” from Le Dinh Kinh’s residence. A photo
44 Dr. Nguyen Quang A’s eyewitness testimony can be found in section VIII.
posted on the MPS’s news portal in the morning after the attack showed a collection of knives, bricks, and what police described as petrol bombs.
Several unanswered questions revolve around due process principles: 1. When did police find out that Le Dinh Kinh and his group had stored “lethal weapons” in his residence?; 2. If police had evidence of this kind of weapons storage before the attack, how did they attain such evidence? By what measure?; and 3. If police had evidence of this kind of weapons storage before the attack, why didn’t they resolve the case through due process, i.e. exhausting all other possible remedies, before launching a violent post-midnight attack against civilian targets?
6. Le Dinh Kinh’s death
The police accuse Le Dinh Kinh of leading the “terrorist charge” and report that he was killed holding a grenade.
Pro-democracy Facebook users, however, expressed doubt that a disabled, 84-year-old man could launch a post-midnight attack against thousands of police officers at a site three kilometers away from his home. Additionally, Kinh was a 58-year member of the Vietnamese Communist Party and had previously served as the secretary of the local party cell, as well as the head of local police. Le Dinh Kinh did not harbor anti-state tendencies and attacking law enforcement officers is not consistent with his biography.45
In talks with local villagers and interviews with the media, Le Dinh Kinh proved to be a consistent and loyal Party member. The only time he implied a possible violent resistance against the police was in an interview conducted with RFA in October 2019, in which he said the Dong Tam people would not surrender and would fight to protect their land, even if that meant risking their lives in self defense.
State-run media, however, cited this single instance as evidence of terrorist intent.
When Le Dinh Kinh’s body was received, many witnesses described seeing first-hand the bullet holes through Kinh’s heart, head, and leg.46 Du Thi Thanh, Kinh’s wife, who was with him during the attack and survived, said Kinh suffered from breathing difficulties due to tear gas exposure, but he was still alive as she was gagged and taken away by the police. She believes he must have been tortured and shot dead in his room after that. She herself was also tortured and coerced into falsely confessing that Kinh was using grenades.
At the end of the day, the pressing question is: Who killed Le Dinh Kinh and how? In his testimony (signed January 11, 2020), Senior lieutenant-colonel Dang Viet Quang stated:
“I saw the door was open, I kneeled down, holding up a short-barreled PM12 gun. At that moment, I saw a gray-haired male subject, holding a grenade in his right hand, waving it in the direction of the living room, with his back to me… The subject shouted: ‘I’ll let this explode and kill you all.’ I then immediately fired twice in the subject’s direction”.
This indicates that Quang shot Kinh from the back. But when he met with lawyers in detention, Bui Viet Hieu stated that he witnessed Kinh being shot from the front: “The shooter stood in front of Kinh a distance of approximately one meter, the barrel of the gun as thick as someone’s wrist, stuck straight into Kinh’s chest. Kinh fell, dying in front of me, after which auxiliary canine came in and dragged his body away…”.
During the preliminary trial, when lawyer Ha Huy Son asked, Hieu reiterated: “The indictment is incorrect. Kinh was shot from the front.” He confirmed that Kinh was not holding a grenade and did not ever have a grenade (because his family members never gave him one); he was only holding a walking cane.
Village leader Le Dinh Kinh was an integral witness and representative in the decades-long land dispute from the very beginning, and many suspect this was why government forces killed him.
VII. THE PRELIMINARY SEPTEMBER TRIAL
The preliminary trial began Monday morning at 8:30 AM, September 7, 2020 and was predicted to last 10 days. It ultimately lasted only four days (September 7-10), with sentencing read out on September 14.
The seat of the Hanoi People’s Court. Address: Lane 1, Pham Van Bach St., Yen Hoa ward, Cau Giay district, Hanoi.
The trial was reported as a “public” one, but in actuality, even defendants’ relatives were not granted entry. Relatives of the three deceased police officers were allowed to enter and issue words during the trial.
Before, during, and after the trial, human rights activists in Hanoi and a number in Saigon were tightly monitored by police.
As with all trials of a political tint, lawyers were required during this trial to leave their phones and laptops outside the courtroom. However, in an unusual move, the court allowed lawyers to “borrow” a laptop and USB drive, and then transfer information from these devices to their own personal computers at the end of each session. In a historic first for the justice system in Vietnam, lawyers were able to more fully recount the events during trial and the content of arguments to the public over social media.
4. List of defendants
# Full name Born Gender Charge 1 Lê Đình Công 1964 Male Murder 2 Bùi Viết Hiểu 1943 Male Murder 3 Nguyễn Văn Tuyển 1974 Male Murder 4 Lê Đình Chức 1980 Male Murder 5 Lê Đình Doanh 1968 Male Murder 6 Nguyễn Quốc Tiến 1980 Male Murder 7 Nguyễn Văn Quân 1980 Male Murder 8 Lê Đình Uy 1993 Male Murder 9 Lê Đình Quang 1984 Male Murder 10 Bùi Thị Nối 1958 Nữ Murder 11 Bùi Thị Đục 1957 Nữ Murder 12 Nguyễn Thị Bét 1961 Nữ Murder 13 Trần Thị La 1978 Nữ Murder 14 Nguyễn Thị Lụa 1956 Nữ Murder 15 Bùi Văn Tiến 1979 Male Murder
16 Nguyễn Văn Duệ 1962 Male Murder 17 Lê Đình Quân 1976 Male Murder 18 Bùi Văn Niên 1980 Male Murder 19 Bùi Văn Tuấn 1991 Male Murder 20 Trịnh Văn Hải 1988 Male Murder 21 Nguyễn Xuân Điều 1952 Male Murder 22 Mai Thị Phần 1963 Female Murder 23 Đào Thị Kim 1983 Female Murder 24 Lê Thị Loan 1966 Female Murder 25 Nguyễn Văn Trung 1988 Male Murder 26 Lê Đình Hiển 1989 Male Obstruction of officials
27 Bùi Viết Tiến 2000 Male Obstruction of officials 28 Nguyễn Thị Dung 1963 Female Obstruction of officials 29 Trần Thị Phượng 1984 Female Obstruction of officials
Total: 29 individuals: 19 men, 10 women.
Average age of the defendants was 45, with the youngest at 20 (Bui Viet Tien) and the oldest at 77 (Bui Viet Hieu).
25 were charged with murder, 4 were charged with obstruction of officials.
The Hanoi People’s Procuracy recommended charging 6 with murder and 23 with obstruction of officials. Among them, 2 were recommended the death penalty, 1 a life sentence, and 19 others were recommended prison sentences: the heaviest three sentences ranged from 16-18 years in prison, 16 sentences ranged from 2-7 years, and the 7 remaining were probation sentences.
Recommended sentencing for the 7 individuals with the surname Le Dinh: 2 death sentences, a life sentence, three prison sentences ranging from 4-7 years, and one case of probation.47
5. Prosecution proceedings
– Court justice – Presiding judge: Trương Việt Toàn (male)
– Court justice: Nguyễn Xuân Văn (male)
– Alternate court justice: Vũ Quang Huy (male)
– Lay assessor: Phí Văn Nghi (male), Ngô Thị Yến (nữ), Nguyễn Hồ Phong (male) – Alternate lay assessor: Hoàng Đức Thọ (male), Nguyễn Thanh Sơn (male) – Trial secretary: Nguyễn Mạnh Hà (male), Nguyễn Đăng Khoa (male)
– Alternate secretary: Nguyễn Thị Hạnh (female)
– Prosecutor: Lại Việt Đông (male), Nguyễn Hoàng Giang (male)
– Alternate prosecutor: Đỗ Cao Chí (male)
# Lawyer Defending the rights of 1 Dương Lê Ước An Lê Đình Quân, Trịnh Văn Hải, Lê Đình Hiển 2 Trương Văn An Bùi Văn Niên
3 Nguyễn Mai Anh Trần Thị La
4 Trương Chí Công Nguyễn Quốc Tiến, Nguyễn Văn Quân, Đào Thị Kim 5 Nguyễn Văn Hải Lê Đình Quân, Trịnh Văn Hải, Lê Đình Hiển 6 Lê Văn Hòa Lê Đình Công, Lê Đình Chức, Lê Đình Uy, Trần Thị La 7 Nguyễn Quốc Hoàn Nguyễn Văn Quân 8 Phạm Thị Hồng Lê Thị Loan
9 Nguyễn Tiến Hùng Nguyễn Văn Tuyển 10 Nguyễn Hà Luân Lê Đình Công, Lê Đình Chức, Lê Đình Uy, Bùi Thị Đục, Nguyễn Thị Lụa, Nguyễn Thị Dung
11 Lê Văn Luân Lê Đình Công, Lê Đình Chức, Lê Đình Uy, Bùi Thị Đục, Nguyễn Thị Lụa, Nguyễn Thị Dung
12 Phan Nhật Luận Lê Đình Quân
13 Nguyễn Thị Kim Mai Nguyễn Văn Trung 14 Phan Thị Mai Bùi Văn Tuấn
15 Đặng Đình Mạnh Lê Đình Công, Lê Đình Chức, Lê Đình Doanh, Lê Đình Uy, Lê Đình Quang
16 Nguyễn Văn Miếng Bùi Viết Hiểu, Nguyễn Thị Lụa, Trịnh Văn Hải 17 Huỳnh Phương Nam Lê Đình Quân
18 Chu Thị Hương Ngân Đào Thị Kim
19 Nguyễn Tiến Nghĩa Nguyễn Quốc Tiến 20 Đinh Thị Nguyên Nguyễn Thị Bét
21 Hoàng Thị Nhàn Nguyễn Văn Duệ 22 Bùi Hải Quảng Lê Đình Công, Lê Đình Chức, Lê Đình Uy, Bùi Thị Đục, Nguyễn Thị Lụa, Nguyễn Thị Dung
23 Phạm Lệ Quyên Lê Đình Công, Lê Đình Chức, Lê Đình Uy, Bùi Thị Đục, Nguyễn Thị Lụa, Nguyễn Thị Dung
24 Hà Huy Sơn Bùi Viết Hiểu, Bùi Thị Nối, Trần Thị Phượng 25 Nguyễn Hồng Thái Nguyễn Xuân Điều 26 Nguyễn Khả Thành Lê Đình Quân, Bùi Văn Tuấn, Trịnh Văn Hải 27 Trần Thu Thủy Mai Thị Phần
28 Nguyễn Quang Tiến Trịnh Văn Hải
29 Ngô Ngọc Trai Lê Đình Doanh, Nguyễn Thị Bét, Bùi Văn Tiến 30 Ngô Anh Tuấn Bùi Viết Hiểu, Nguyễn Quốc Tiến, Nguyễn Văn Quân, Lê Đình Uy, Lê Đình Quang, Đào Thị Kim
31 Bùi Đình Ứng Bùi Văn Tiến
32 Nguyễn Hồng Bách Nguyễn Huy Thịnh, Phạm Công Huy, Dương Đức Hoàng Quân (the three deceased police officers)
Nguyễn Huy Thịnh (deceased): born 1972, police officer, worked in a riot police regiment (Ministry of Public Security). Representatives before the court: mother and wife.
Dương Đức Hoàng Quân (deceased): born 1992; police officer, worked in a riot police regiment (Ministry of Public Security). Had representative before the court.
Phạm Công Huy (deceased): born 1993; police officer and firefighter (Hanoi City Police). Representatives before the court: mother and father.
8. Trial highlights
Four days before the trial, five lawyers representing the defense lawyers submitted a petition to the trial’s presiding court justice Truong Viet Toan, the Hanoi People’s Court presiding court justice Nguyen Huu Chinh, and the head of the Hanoi People’s Procuracy Nguyen Duy Giang. The petition stated that “during the entirety of the case’s litigation proceedings, all three phases: investigation, prosecution, and trial preparation”, lawyers “confronted many difficulties”:
• Hanoi police investigators repeatedly caused difficulties: they prevented lawyers from meeting privately with their clients at the detention centers and did not allow lawyers access to case files, despite multiple requests.
• The Hanoi People’s Procuracy did not allow lawyers access to case files.
• The Hanoi People’s Court made it difficult for lawyers to make backup copies of case files.
The petition pointed out that there remained countless contradictory and unclear points in the case files and requested that the court return them for further investigation. Furthermore, lawyers asked that the trial require the participation of several relevant figures:
• Key witness: Du Thi Thanh (Le Dinh Kinh’s wife);
• The police officer who shot and killed Le Dinh Kinh and injured Bui Viet Hieu; • All investigators
The trial begins. Lawyers recount to the public on social media that the Tribunal, especially presiding court justice Truong Viet Toan, committed many litigation infringements. Court security made attempts to block lawyers from meeting with their clients. When lawyer Dang Dinh Manh objected, stating that lawyers had a right to speak with defendants, judge Truong Viet Toan declared: “Lawyers have had time to research case files and speak with defendants at the detention center; therefore, contact between lawyers and defendants during the trial is not necessary”.
Presiding court justice Truong Viet Toan also rejected the majority of requests in the September 3 petition lawyers had submitted, with the blanket rationale that these requests were “not necessary”.
The court took a significant amount of time to show a documentary for lawyers and defendants to watch. The film featured images of vivid fireworks, a burning fire, and individuals (with unclear faces) standing on a rooftop, tossing something downwards (it is unclear what). The film also revolved around “the three warriors martyred” in the line of duty and the pain and tears experienced by their loved ones. Besides this documentary film (whose production source is unknown), the court also broadcast clips of the defendants’ confessions.
Insteading of answering the Tribunal’s inquiries, Mrs. Bui Thi Noi turned the tables, interrogating them with her own set of questions: “We have laws, but why are they not carried out? Why was my father [Le Dinh Kinh, her adopted father] lured out to a field and his leg broken, instead of being arrested properly?” The presiding judge ejected her from the courtroom.
Noi’s firmness and her staunchness in asking the court “difficult questions” is quite possibly the reason she received a heavier sentence of 6 years in prison, rather than the 4-5 years recommended by the Procuracy.
That same day, the court and the Procuracy confirmed that the Dong Tam Consensus group had purchased 10 grenades (none of which exploded) and one of which were given to Le Dinh Kinh. Said another way, one can see that Kinh was not holding a grenade when he was surrounded and shot dead.
The question-and-answer session between lawyers and defendants also revealed:
• A number of defendants charged with murder were initially unaware that they had killed anyone, until after a few days into their detention (e.g. Le Dinh Cong, Trinh Van Hai); • A number of defendants who had simply cursed at the police one or two phrases were charged with obstruction of officials (e.g. Le Dinh Hien, Dao Thi Kim);
• Bui Viet Hieu stated clearly: “The indictment is incorrect. Kinh was shot from the front”, Kinh was not holding a grenade but rather a walking cane. Hieu also stated: “After Kinh died and the dogs dragged him away, police shot my leg and then shot straight into my chest, but the bullet ricocheted, hitting a rib and missing my heart. So I didn’t die. My duodenum was punctured in three places, my large intestine two.”;
• Le Dinh Cong denounced his torture: “I was beaten for ten days straight. Pham Viet Anh used a rubber truncheon to beat me.” Bui Thi Noi also reported: “When I was arrested, I was already injured, but when I was interrogated at Mien Mon police station, my legs were severely beaten as a means of coercion.”;
• Lawyer Dang Dinh Manh asked the 29 defendants: “After the incident [January 9], if you were not beaten, raise your hands!” 10 individuals raised their hands, 19 sat still – meaning at least 19 individuals confirmed they had been tortured. The presiding judge called Manh to order and allowed him no further questions.
Lawyer Ha Huy Son stated that the Office of Investigation asking all defendants to write statements forgoing lawyers is a serious violation of litigation procedure. He also pointed out that the sky well – which the three officers supposedly fell down and were incinerated in – had measurements of 0.76 m x 1.45 m x 4 m and a volume of 4.408 meters3, only enough to burn 367 grams of gasoline, or the equivalent 0.625 liters. With that amount of gasoline, there was no way the three officers could have been incinerated to ashes. Accordingly, Son requested a forensic exam of the crime scene and stated that the Office of Investigation’s failure to conduct such an exam violated litigation procedure. (Article 85 and Article 204 of the Criminal Procedure Code, Article 6 of Joint Circular #02/2017/ TTLT – VKSNDTC – TANDTC – BCA – BQP).
Lawyers also argued with the court over the issue of “duties”. These duties must be legal for them to form the foundation of any charges regarding the “obstruction of officials (and their duties)”. Case files did not identify any of the duties that police forces were carrying out the night of September 8 and early the morning of September 9, 2020. If the duty was maintaining order and security for the construction of the wall around Mieu Mon airport, then that reason does not hold water; the wall was completed at the end of 2019 and was located nearly some kilometers away from Hoanh village.
It was also revealed that in April 2019, Hanoi City Police established a plan to “ensure security and order in the Dong Tam commune area”. The plan was named 419a/KH-PV01-PV02-MP and was approved by the Ministry of Public Security. However, it was considered “secret” – as with all other police documents. But the question is, if it was indeed secret, then how were Dong Tam supposed to know police being mobilized into the village in the middle of the night was “official duty”?
During the trial’s morning session, the Procuracy changed the charges of 19 defendants from “murder” to “obstruction of officials”, reducing the number charged with “murder” from 25 to 6. The Procuracy recommended severe punishment for these six: 1. Le Dinh Cong: death; 2. Le Dinh Chuc: death; 3. Le Dinh Doanh: life sentence; 4. Bui Viet Hieu: 16-18 years of prison; 5. Nguyen Quoc Tien: 16-18 years of prison; 6. Nguyen Van Tuyen: 14-16 years of prison.
Lawyer Nguyen Hong Bach, in charge of defending the three deceased police officers’ rights, does not agree to publicize plan 419A, stating that the “plan to protect Dong Tam is a top secret document.” He also stated that police forces entering Dong Tam the night of January 9 was to carry out official duties, that they were official duties because after his three clients passed away, they were posthumously awarded certificates and deemed martyrs. “If they were not carrying out official duties, then how could they have been awarded certificates and deemed martyrs?”
Bach also opposed a forensic exam of the crime scene: “Who would dare to climb down that sky well, for others to pour gasoline on? We can’t very well use animals either! I feel we cannot recreate such a gruesome crime scene. Not every case needs to have the crime scene recreated; doing so would only bring pain to the officers’ families.”
Prosecutor Lai Viet Dong, representing the Hanoi People’s Procuracy, agreed with lawyer Nguyen Hong Back and disregarded defense lawyers’ arguments: “I agree with lawyer Bach’s explanation…. Suspicions over the three officers’ cause of death are groundless,” “A forensic investigation is not
necessary,” “The assertion that defendants were coerced or tortured into giving testimony is baseless,” “Le Dinh Kinh resisted; shooting and killing him followed the letter of the law,” “The cause of Bui Viet Hieu’s injury is unclear.”
In the afternoon session, defendants gave their closing statements. The majority uniformly stated the same thing:
– Thank you to the prison educators (i.e. wardens) who taught me the error of my ways; – It’s my fault, and I recognize that it’s my fault;
– I ask that the lawyers no longer defend me and that they no longer ask for re investigation of the case;
– I ask the court for leniency; I ask the court for the lightest punishment.
The court adjourned early, and most of the lawyers vacated the premises. However, as lawyer Ngo Anh Tuan prepared to transfer data from the court’s USB drive to his personal computer, police (uniformed and plainclothes) stopped him and tried to reclaim the drive. Seeing the tension mount, lawyers Dang Dinh Manh and Nguyen Van Mieng tried to intervene but had their arms twisted by plainclothes police, who dragged the two outside and shoved them down an approximately 2-meter flight of stairs.
That night, police insert themselves into hotel rooms adjacent to those of lawyers Manh and Mieng. The next morning, when the two men left for breakfast, security broke into their rooms and rummaged through their belongings. The encirclement, stalking, and harassment were to such a degree that the two had to be extricated to get to the airport to return to Saigon
At 3 PM, the Hanoi People’s Court began to announce sentencing.
# Full name Recommended charge
sentence Initial sentence
1 Lê Đình Công Murder Death Death 2 Lê Đình Chức Murder Death Death 3 Lê Đình Doanh Murder Life sentence Life sentence 4 Bùi Viết Hiểu Murder 16-18 years of
prison 16 years of prison
5 Nguyễn Văn Tuyển Murder 16-18 years of
prison 12 years of prison
6 Nguyễn Quốc Tiến Murder 16-18 years of prison 13 years of prison
7 Nguyễn Văn Quân Obstruction of officials
8 Lê Đình Uy Obstruction of officials
9 Lê Đình Quang Obstruction of officials
6-7 years of
prison 5 years of prison 6-7 years of
prison 5 years of prison 6-7 years of
prison 5 years of prison
10 Bùi Thị Nối Obstruction of 4-5 years of 6 years of prison
11 Bùi Thị Đục Obstruction of officials
12 Nguyễn Thị Bét Obstruction of officials
13 Nguyễn Thị Lụa Obstruction of officials
14 Trần Thị La Obstruction of officials
15 Bùi Văn Tiến Obstruction of
3-4 years of prison
3-4 years of prison
2-2.5 years of prison
3-4 years of prison
5-6 years of
3 years of probation 3 years of probation 3 years of probation 3 years of probation
15 Nguyễn Văn DuệObstruction of officials
17 Lê Đình Quân Obstruction of officials
prison 5 years of prison 3-4 years of
prison 3 years of prison 4-5 years of
prison 5 years of prison
18 Bùi Văn Niên Obstruction of officials
19 Bùi Văn Tuấn Obstruction of
2-2.5 years of prison
3-4 years of
3 years of probation
20 Trịnh Văn Hải Obstruction of officials
prison 3 years of prison 4-5 years of
prison 3 years of prison
21 Nguyễn Xuân Điều Obstruction of officials
22 Mai Thị Phần Obstruction of officials
23 Đào Thị Kim Obstruction of officials
24 Lê Thị Loan Obstruction of officials
25 Nguyễn Văn Trung Obstruction of officials
26 Lê Đình Hiển Obstruction of officials
27 Bùi Viết Tiến Obstruction of officials
28 Nguyễn Thị Dung Obstruction of officials
29 Trần Thị Phượng Obstruction of officials
3-4 years of
2-2.5 years of prison
24-30 months of probation
30-36 months of probation
18-24 months of probation
15-18 months of probation
15-18 months of probation
15-18 months of probation
15-18 months of probation
3 years of
probation 30 months of probation 24 months of probation 30 months of probation 18 months of probation 15 months of probation 15 months of probation 15 months of probation 15 months of probation
Bui Thi Noi received a 6-year prison sentence, heavier than the 4-5 years recommended by the Procuracy. According to lawyers, it could be due to the fact that the court felt Noi “did not admit guilt”, was “hard-headed”, and “testified insincerely”.
The 14 individuals who received probation sentences were freed, after more than 8 months in detention. They returned to their village and that night, tens of residents went out to Le Dinh Kinh’s grave and burned incense for him.
9. Post-trial legal proceedings48
The September 14 sentencing announced by the Hanoi People’s Court is only the initial instance and has not gone into effect. The carrying out of the sentences has not yet begun.
The deadline to appeal is 15 days from the day after sentencing (September 15).
• If there is no appeal, the entirety of the sentence will automatically go into effect from the 16th day (Wednesday, September 30).
• If there is an appeal:
o If any defendant, victim, or his/her representative appeals, then the case will be re tried. The entirety of the case will be reviewed and re-litigated.
If the appeal occurs more than 15 days after, then the court in charge of re-trial can still accept it if “there were reasons or objective hindrances that made it impossible to carry out an appeal before the deadline” (Article 335, 2015 Legal Code for Criminal Litigation).
o If the Hanoi People’s Procuracy appeals a part or the whole of the sentence, then the case will enter re-trial.
o The Hanoi Supreme People’s Procuracy is an exception; they have 30 days from the date of sentencing to appeal.
According to defense lawyers, after sentencing was announced, Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc both signaled that they would be appealing.
VIII. COMMENTARIES AND TESTIMONIES ON THE DONG TAM ATTACK
“We urge the Party Central Committee to contemplate the primary reason for the  Dong Tam [land dispute] and find a specific and comprehensive solution for this crisis…. We are concerned that the Dong Tam [land dispute], if not properly settled, will turn from being a social issue to a political issue, a time-bomb threatening social order and political stability, which is what we have never wanted.” (“A heartfelt letter from Dong Tam residents to the 7th Plenum of the 12th Party Central Committee”, April 15, 2018)
“We have in our hands all the documents necessary to prove that this land (59 hectares) is our agricultural land. We Dong Tam residents are ready to take on any government body that does not abide by jurisdiction or the law.” (Le Dinh Kinh to RFA, October 31, 2019)49
“If they try to invade into this 59-hectare piece of land, we are determined to fight back. We won’t arrest them this time, OK? We will not arrest any of them this time. I swear to you, citizens, if they invade this 59- hectare piece of land of ours, we will appreciate their mobilizing as many troops as they can. If we fail to kill at least 300 to 500 of their troops, we will not see you again, citizens. This time, if they plan to kill us, we will blow them up. That’s our resolution.” (Le Dinh Cong vowing self-defense in the last livestreamed monthly meeting of the Dong Tam commune leaders, a.k.a. the Dong Tam Consensus, December 23, 2019)50
“I’m so sad that I can’t do anything to help [the Dong Tam residents] effectively. I’d like to act as an intermediary to abate tension between the two sides, but I’m afraid my wish cannot be realized given the over-aggressiveness of the law enforcement officers that I’ve encountered.” (Lawyer Ngo Anh Tuan on his Facebook page, January 9, 2020)51
“Mr. Le Dinh Kinh has completed his circle of life, from 1936 when the Vietnamese Communist Party was accused of being a terrorist organization to 2020 when Kinh himself was accused by the VCP of being the leader of an armed terrorist group; other pro-communist voices curse him as if he were a real terrorist.” (Lawyer Trinh Huu Long in a Luat Khoa Magazine editorial, January 13, 2020)52
“The group of lawbreakers was confirmed as having caused public disorder over a long period of time, with none of them owning any residential or farming land in the area that Dong Tam commune has transferred to the Ministry of National Defense. These lawbreakers also declared that they would commit murder, equipping themselves with lethal weapons and explosives to realize their plan of obstructing the authorities from building the Mieu Mon Airport’s walled boundary.” (Vietnam Television’s Evening News, January 13, 2020)
“They forced me to declare that I had grenades at home. But I told them I don’t even know what grenades and petrol bombs are, so I couldn’t make that statement. They then slapped me, and they kept slapping me. They slapped me the whole time. They slapped this side and that, and then after, they repeatedly kicked
50 “The Dong Tam people denounce Hanoi mayor Nguyen Duc Chung” (in Vietnamese: Nhân dân Đồng Tâm vạch mặt Nguyễn Đức Chung chủ tịch thành phố Hà Nội: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haM320uObNw 51 https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10215604090646565&set=a.3626737838303&type=3&theater 52 Trinh Huu Long, “There’s a slogan on his coffin” (in Vietnamese: Có một khẩu hiệu trên quan tài). Available at: https://www.luatkhoa.org/2020/01/co-mot-khau-hieu-tren-quan-tai/
both of my legs.” (Mrs. Du Thi Thanh, the wife of Le Dinh Kinh, describing in tears how she was tortured, January 13, 2020)53
“The Dong Tam Consensus proved to be an organized criminal group. Apart from such statements as ‘we will fight to death to protect our land’ and ‘kill at least 300 to 500 of their troops’, this group went further by threatening local political leaders and households who did not conform. They also wrote to diplomatic missions and international organizations to falsely accuse the government of suppressing ‘the disadvantaged victims of injustice’ in an effort to internationalize the case, turning Dong Tam into a politically complicated issue.” (Article on PAVN website, January 20, 2020)54
“[Police] bullets pierced the iron window frame, breaking the window glass, leaving highly visible traces. Bullets even went through the iron wardrobe in Mr. Kinh’s room. Stains of blood, though apparently cleaned, could still be seen on the room’s walls. In the skylight, which is said to be where the three policemen were burned, I couldn’t find any trace of fire and when I looked down into it, I thought even one single individual could hardly be killed there, never mind three men together. So, the death of the three policemen, including where and how they were killed, needs to be made clear. I asked local people, but none of them knew.” (Dr. Nguyen Quang A, after his trip to Dong Tam on February 1, 2020)
“Law enforcement has lost three cadres, and families have lost three loved ones, but we believe that you three did not die in vain; you have contributed to societal peace and awakened the conscience of these criminals.” (The Hanoi People’s Procuracy expressing its view in court, September 9, 2020)
“We have yet more heroes. But we’ve struggled in vain to understand, how did they become heroes by fumbling into people’s homes in the middle of the night?” (Journalist Khai Don, in a Facebook post, September 9, 2020)
“When he saw the fire dying down, Chuc took the can of gasoline and poured more into the sky well, causing the fire to explode in intensity. As he was pouring, he said: ‘Good riddance”. Hai sat next to Chuc and stated: ‘Smells good, huh’”. “After pushing the container of gasoline into the sky well, Doanh went down, set up a ladder, and climbed up onto the rooftop behind Kinh’s second-story. While standing there, he saw Chuc pour the can into the sky well 3-5 times, pouring once every 3-5 minutes. These actions led to comrades Thinh, Huy, and Quan perishing in the sky well.” (Hanoi City Police’s Investigative Result, June 5, 2020)
“Did you see the three officers fall into the sky well?”. “No”. “Did you say ‘smells good, huh’?”. “No. I wore a mask, I couldn’t smell anything.” (Lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng questioning defendant Trinh Van Hai during the preliminary trial, September 8, 2020)
“Communists…. speak of reality as if it were a novel full of colors and fierce actions. They will enthusiastically become chroniclers of history, silently standing by, listening to the conversations of culprits, commenting on the scent of burning human flesh. But hold on, why are they not concerned with saving their colleagues burning to ashes in the pit. A conversation for the indictment is more important than the lives of victims sacrificed to the fire. The chronicler of history stands by, his heart occupied with writing the
53 Anonymous videographer. Video source: Facebook user La Viet Dung.
54 Cong Minh, Nguyen Minh, Tran Tuan, and Quang Phuong, “Internationalizing the Dong Tam incident is a deceptive and unscrupulous plot” (in Vietnamese: “‘Quốc tế hóa’ vụ việc Đồng Tâm – một âm mưu gian trá, vô lương tâm”): https://www.qdnd.vn/chong-dien-bien-hoa-binh/quoc-te-hoa-vu-viec-dong-tam-mot-am-muu-gian tra-vo-luong-tam-608274
indictment rather than saving heroes fallen. And they like to see their enemies beg for forgiveness. It’s a complex to avoid loss, a covetous complex where one must complete the drama to avoid being the bad guy.” (Journalist Khai Don, on her personal blog, September 8, 2020)55
“I declare that I respect the law, and I directly and indirectly warn the 29 defendants, wake up, repent, do not heed these lawyers you have invited, they’re simply seeking ‘likes’ and ‘views’. Save money, plead guilty, turn around, and that’d be the end of it. Don’t act up and lose more money…. 95% of citizens across the country demand the death penalty for you 29 defendants. I warn you all to rethink your actions. Your criminal behavior has already been demonstrated; why not plead guilty rather than waste more money with lawyers whose only wish is to get more ‘likes’ and ‘views’ on Facebook.” (Pham Cong Lam, father of Pham Cong Huy, representative for families of the three deceased policemen, speaking in court the morning of September 10).
“The Procuracy representative only does one absurd thing: unanimously agree with the victims’ lawyers that the defendants are guilty and summarize the defense’s arguments with no response…. We defense lawyers are watched like a hawk, like we’re thieves. Defendants speak as if they’re coached, admitting guilt and repenting as if with one voice. Journalists uniformly report on the events of a ‘public’ and ‘fair’ trial.” (Lawyer Ha Huy Son, in a Facebook post the night of September 10, 2020)
IX. LEGAL VIOLATIONS OF VIETNAM’S DOMESTIC LAWS Background: Vietnamese Constitution56
Article 53 stipulates that “The land, water resources, mineral resources, resources in the sea and airspace, other natural resources and property invested and managed by the State are public properties, coming under ownership of the entire people represented and uniformly managed by the State.”
1. Vietnam’s Land Law57
Under Article 70 of the 2013 Land Law, “Enforcement of decisions on compulsory inventory”, the following principles of enforcement of a decision on compulsory inventory are required:
a. “The enforcement is conducted in a public, democratic, objective, orderly, safe, and lawful manner;
b. The enforcement starting times fall within working hours.”
Therefore, the time in which the police conducted the attack against the Dong Tam community (after midnight) is unlawful, even if it were a land eviction as police originally claimed.
Article 71, “Enforcement of land recovery decisions”, Clause 2 provides that “The enforcement of a land recovery decision is conducted when all the following requirements are met:
a. The person whose land is to be reclaimed fails to comply with the land recovery decision after mobilization and persuasion by the commune-level People’s Committee and Vietnam Fatherland Front in the locality and the organization in charge of compensation and ground clearance.”
In the Dong Tam land dispute, local people insist that the authorities have never issued any land recovery decision. This is not to mention a universal principle in the guarantee of land rights, which states that no relocation shall take place without the free, prior, and informed consent of the people concerned.
2. Vietnam’s Law on Weapon Control58
Clause 2 of Article 22 provides that “weapons may only be used when there is no other way to prevent the subject from acting and after warning without the subject complying.”
In the Dong Tam clash, it is as yet unknown whether government forces gave any warning on-site or whether the local people refused to surrender. However, given a clash in which a few dozen farmers were confronted by thousands of armed officers, it can hardly be said that “there [wa]s no other way to prevent the subject from acting.”
Article 23 on “cases in which the law enforcement officers may use weapons when performing their duty” stipulates that “the duty performer may shoot the subject without warning in the following cases:
a. The subject is using a weapon or explosives to directly conduct an attempt at terrorism, murder, or kidnapping, or is using weapons or explosives to resist his/her arrest after he/she has conducted such a crime.”
In the Dong Tam clash, the obligation to provide evidence that local people attempted to conduct terrorism or murder falls on the police. However, they have failed to provide clear and consistent evidence to support their accusations, especially in any context outside of self-defense.
3. Vietnam’s 2015 Criminal Procedure Code59
Article 10 on “sustainment of bodily integrity” provides that “Every person is entitled to inviolability of the physical body. No person is arrested without a Court’s warrant or Procuracy’s decision or approval, except for acts in flagrante,” and “Emergency custody, arrest, temporary detainment or detention must abide by this Law. Torture, extortion of deposition, corporal punishment or any treatments violating a person’s body, life, and health are inhibited.”
Article 110 on “emergency custody” stipulates that emergency custody of a person is only permitted in one of the following events:
a. “There are substantial evidences that such person is going to commit a horrific or extremely severe felony;
b. The accomplice committing the crime, or the perpetrator of the crime, who was identified by the crime victim or a person at the crime scene, must be obstructed from escape;
c. A person carrying criminal traces or a suspect whose residence, workplace or tools contain criminal traces must be obstructed promptly from escaping or disposing evidences.”
Additionally, the order for emergency custody must specify the full name and address of the detainee, as well as the grounds for detainment.
In the January 9 police attack against Dong Tam commune and in the arrests that followed, no court’s warrant or procuracy’s decision was issued or mentioned.
Article 113 on “apprehension of suspects and defendants for detention” requires that “the apprehension of a person at his place of residence must be witnessed by a representative of communal, ward or town authorities and other individuals. The apprehension of a person at his place of work or education must be witnessed by a representative of the place of work or education. The apprehension of a person at other places must be witnessed by a representative of communal, ward or town authorities.” Finally, “apprehension must not occur at night, except for criminals in flagrante or wanted persons.”
All of these above-mentioned due process principles were violated in the Dong Tam attack.
Furthermore, Article 49, “Disapproval or replacement of persons given authority to institute legal proceedings” , stipulates:
“Persons given authority to institute legal procedure must refuse to engage in proceedings or submit to replacement in the following events:
1) They are crime victims, litigants, or delegates, relatives of crime victims, litigants, suspects or defendants;
2) They have acted as defense counsels, witness testifiers, verifiers, valuators, interpreters or translators in the lawsuits;
3) Clear grounds of their potential bias at work are found.
The attack on Dong Tam early on the morning of January 9, 2020 was to carry out plan 419a/KH PV01-PV02-MP established by Hanoi City Police and approved by the Ministry of Public Security. Hanoi City Police and the Ministry of Public Security were the main participating forces. However, case investigators – that is, those who can carry out litigation proceedings – are also cadres and members of the Hanoi City Police.
For example, Dang Viet Quang – the police officer who shot and killed Le Dinh Kinh – was Vice head of the Criminal Division and Vice-head of Investigation of the Hanoi City Police at the time. The person who took his testimony was investigator Tran Viet Dung, also employed by Hanoi City Police (according to a form signed January 11, 2020). Could this render Quang a “victim” as he was described in the form?
Colleague interrogating colleague. This is a very clear conflict-of-interest in litigation; it wholly violates Article 49 of the 2015 Criminal Procedure Code and does not guarantee the impartiality of individuals with jurisdiction to proceed with litigation, as required by Article 21 of the 2015 Criminal Procedure Code.
Defense lawyers had asked that the court summon witnesses and those with relevant authority and duties, including Hanoi City Police units that participated in the attack, but they were roundly denied. A single representative from the Hanoi City Police was present during the trial When (defense) lawyer Dang Dinh Manh requested to cross-examine the Hanoi City Police representative, the court denied it, stating that there was no legitimate reason to do so.
Lawyer-client privilege was also regularly curtailed before and during the trial, for a myriad of unclear reasons. Any form of exchange or contact between lawyer and client was closely monitored and coarsely interrupted.
4. Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code60
Article 22 on “justifiable force”, which may be applied for the interest of the Dong Tam people who are under charge, defines “justifiable force in self-defense” as “a person’s use of force which is reasonably necessary to defend against another person’s infringement upon his/her legitimate rights or interests of himself/herself, other people, the State, organizations.” This article confirms that “the use of justifiable force does not constitute a criminal offense.”
X. VIOLATIONS OF INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS STANDARDS61 1. The right to be informed of one’s rights
Anyone arrested or detained is entitled to be informed, in a language they understand, of their right to (a) legal representation; (b) examination and treatment by a doctor; (c) have a relative or friend notified of their arrest or detention; (d) communicate with or notify their consulate (in the case of foreign nationals) or a competent international organization (in the case of refugees or persons who are stateless or under the protection of an inter-governmental organization), and (e) be provided with information on how to avail themselves of such rights.
All of the above rights are frequently violated in Vietnam. Arrestees, especially in political cases, are denied access to legal representation, health care, family and friends, and information, including “information on how to avail themselves of such rights.” Only after the investigation process has been completed do they sometimes avail themselves of those rights to a limited extent, with permission from the police.
2. The right to silence
No one who is charged with a criminal offense may be compelled to confess guilt or testify against him/herself.
In Vietnam, however, prolonged detention in deplorable prison conditions, and denial of access to legal representation, family, and friends, have been widely and systematically used to coerce arrestees into confessing or admitting guilt.
Vietnamese police show much interest, as do their Chinese counterparts, in compelling dissidents to confess in recorded sessions, which are later aired on state television. There have been several notorious cases of TV confessions, such as that of human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh (2009), democracy supporter Tran Thi Xuan (2017), freelance journalist Nguyen Van Hoa (2017), and protester Truong Huu Loc (2018). With 2020 comes the “televised confession” and “pre-trial conviction” of the detainees in the Dong Tam police raid.
3. The right to legal assistance
All persons who are arrested or detained have the right to immediate assistance from a lawyer during any pre-trial detention, interrogation and/or preliminary investigation. They have the right to a lawyer of their choice. If they are unable to afford a lawyer, then a defense counsel should be assigned to them free of charge.
Under Vietnamese law, the police are the ones who grant permission to lawyers to see their clients. Traditionally, they only do so when the investigation has been completed and they have made sure prosecutors have a substantial advantage over the accused.
61 In this section, principles 1 through 9 are extracted from the Trial Observation Manual for Criminal Proceedings: Practitioners Guide No. 5, International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), 2009. Available at: http://www.inpris.pl/fileadmin/user_upload/documents/Biblioteka_MWS/64.Trial_Observation_Manual_for_Cri minal_Proceedings._ICJ2010.pdf
4. The right to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of a defense
All persons charged with a criminal offense should be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of their defense, including the opportunity to communicate in confidence with a lawyer of their own choosing.
This right is totally alien to Vietnam’s law-enforcement and litigation bodies. Particularly in political cases, lawyers can only meet their clients after being granted permission by the investigating body, so that they have limited time to study the case. For example, in the 2008 case of “the SRV vs. tax evader Dieu Cay”, defense lawyers were given only five days to work on the case before the trial took place.
5. The right not to be held incommunicado
Any person arrested or detained has the right to be provided with the facilities they require to communicate, as appropriate, with their lawyer, doctor, family, and friends, and to notify these people of their arrest or detention, including the place where the person is being detained or transferred to.
6. The right to trial within a reasonable time
Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge has the right to be tried within a reasonable time or to be released pending trial. Prolonged incommunicado detention is absolutely prohibited under international law.
However, for decades in Vietnam, suspects considered “anti-state” or “anti-communist” have been arrested without warrant and placed in solitary confinement for years without trial. Because there was no trial, there was also no legal representation, indictment, or court judgment. These victims, whose human rights have been egregiously violated, remain imprisoned until the MPS frees them at their discretion. “Rubber justice” is the slang word used for this kind of imprisonment.
7. The right to humane treatment and non-torture
All persons deprived of their liberty have the right to be treated with humanity, with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
In the Dong Tam incident, there is more than ample evidence that victims and witnesses held in detention suffered cruel and purposeful torture at the hands of police. On the evening of September 9, at the initial trial, lawyer Dang Dinh Manh asked the defendants: “Those who were tortured during investigation, sit still. Those who were not tortured, please raise your hands”. 19 of 29 defendants sat still.
8. The right to a fair trial
The accused is entitled to a fair trial. The right to a fair trial encompasses all the procedural and other guarantees concerning due process laid down in international standards. For the sake of conciseness,
the right to a fair trial means the accused is entitled to a trial before an independent, impartial, and competent tribunal established by law.
9. Presumption of innocence
Everyone charged with a criminal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law.
To date, this principle has been violated often in Vietnam. Contrary to countries in Europe and North America, in Vietnam, it is government officials and the state-controlled press who tend to violate it most often, especially in political cases. The authorities in general and the police in particular have a tradition of employing the press and du luan vien to personally attack suspects or the accused, defaming them and manipulating public opinion to affirm their guilt before trial. Even defense lawyers are occasionally attacked.
10. Policing in democracies62
In compliance with international standards, the police shall be an independent organ of the Executive and shall be subject to the direction of the courts and bound by their orders. Every law enforcement agency shall be representative of and responsive and accountable to the community as a whole.
No member of the police may participate directly in political activities. No member of the police may be ordered or forced to exercise his or her functions or powers or deploy police resources to promote or undermine any political party or interest group, or any member of such a party or group.
The Vietnamese reality is totally contrary to the above-mentioned standards. Dong Tam is a good (but by far, not the only) case study in which the court plays no role at all in conflict resolution, leaving disputes between the government and the people unresolved.
11. Police use of force63
In compliance with international human rights standards, everyone has the right to life and security of person, and freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and punishment. Non-violent means are to be attempted first. Force is to be used only when strictly necessary and only for lawful law enforcement purposes. No exceptions or excuses shall be allowed for unlawful use of force.
In the Dong Tam event, there exists ample evidence that the victims and witnesses taken into custody were all tortured intentionally and brutally by police. There is evidence of police threatening witnesses as well.
62 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Human Rights Standards and Practice for the Police”, 2004. Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/training5Add3en.pdf 63 https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/training5Add3en.pdf
1. The international community must pressure the Vietnamese government into initiating a just and objective investigation into what happened in Dong Tam the morning of January 9, 2020.
2. The Vietnamese government must conduct a forensic investigation of the crime scene, or at the very least, take good-faith consideration of forensic work that has already been done by private citizens.
3. The Vietnamese government must give defendants a fair trial, with the addition of new forensic information and the subtraction of documentary films and confessions. It must also allow lawyers to freely do their job.
4. The Vietnamese government must allow the free movement of persons and information in and out of Dong Tam and refrain from further harassment of witnesses and activists assisting the community.
5. The Vietnamese government must properly compensate the residents of Dong Tam for all possessions and property lost or damaged in the land dispute.
APPENDIX A: Facts and figures on the Dong Tam attack Proper name:
Dong Tam (in Vietnamese: Đồng Tâm, formally meaning “consensus and unity”) Location under attack:
• Administrative division: Hoanh ward, Dong Tam village/commune, part of My Duc suburban district, Hanoi, northern Vietnam
• Geographical position: 35-40 kilometers southwest of Hanoi
• Population: ~9000 (Dong Tam commune)
Location scheduled for eviction:
• Senh Field (in Vietnamese: Cánh Đồng Sênh), an informal name given by local residents • Geographical position: 3-5km from Hoanh ward
• Full name: Army Telecommunication Industry Corporation
• Transaction name: Viettel (once re-branded as Vietel)
• Establishment year: 1989
• Type: state-owned enterprise, owned and operated by the Ministry of National Defense • Industry: telecommunications
• One of Vietnam’s top five largest companies, from 2013 to present
Victims in the January 9 attack:
• Le Dinh Kinh: b. 1936, member of the Vietnamese Communist Party for 58 years, murdered • Du Thi Thanh: Kinh’s wife, tortured and under house arrest
• 23 were arrested and immediately charged with “murder”, on the night of January 8 and early the morning of the 9th:
o 1. Le Dinh Cong (m., 55, Le Dinh Kinh’ son);
o 2. Le Dinh Chuc (m., 40, Le Dinh Kinh’ son);
o 3. Le Dinh Doanh (m., 34, Le Dinh Kinh’s grandson);
o 4. Le Dinh Uy (m., 31, Le Dinh Kinh’ grandson);
o 5. Le Dinh Quan (m., 44, Le Dinh Kinh’s nephew);
o 6. Le Dinh Quang (m., 37, Le Dinh Kinh’s nephew);
o 7. Bui Viet Hieu (m., 74);
o 8. Trinh Van Hai (m., 40);
o 9. Nguyen Van Due (m., 52);
o 10. Bui Thi Noi (f., 56);
o 11. Nguyen Xuan Dieu (m., 64);
o 12. Tran Thi La (f., 42, single mother);
o 13. Bui Duy Tuan (m., 40);
o 14. Nguyen Quoc Tien (m., 40);
o 15. Dao Thi Kim (f., 38)
o 16. Nguyen Van Quan (m., 40, single father);
o 17. Nguyen Thi Bet (f., 58);
o 18. Bui Thi Duc (f., 55);
o 19. Nguyen Van Tuyen (m., 48);
o 20. Nguyen Thi Lua (f., 53);
o 21. Bui Van Nien (m., 40);
o 22. Bui Van Tien (m., 41);
o 23. Tran Thi Phuong (f., 40).
• 3 individuals detained and charged with “obstruction of officials”:
o 1. Le Dinh Hien (m.);
o 2. Bui Viet Tien (m., 17);
o 3. Nguyen Thi Dung (f., 57)
• 3 individuals were arrested in the weeks following the attack: Mai Thi Phan, Le Thi Loan, Nguyen Van Trung
• Bui Viet Hieu was admitted to the hospital in critical condition and was closely monitored by police. Family members stated that police prevented them from visiting him, using the excuse that he was a “particularly dangerous criminal”. After he recovered, he was taken from hospital straight to the detention center.
• Le Dinh Cong appeared on television “confessing” with a bruised face. Before the court, he stated that he was beaten by investigator Pham Viet Anh with a rubber truncheon. • Le Dinh Chuc: has three young children, the youngest only 10 days old as of January 9. Witnesses describe Chuc being severely beaten and admitted to the hospital. • Bui Thi Noi decried that she had been shot and injured but was still beaten by police during interrogation.
• Nguyen Quoc Tien and Dao Thi Kim are husband and wife. They have three children born in 2004, 2007 and 2013.
• Bui Van Tien and Tran Thi Phuong are husband and wife. They have three children born in 2007, 2013 and 2018, the youngest of whom is 18-month-old at the time of the attack. • Tran Thi La: single mother with one child.
• Nguyen Van Quan: single father with three children.
• Nguyen Van Trung: son of Bui Thi Duc.
Police allegedly killed in the attack:
• Nguyen Huy Thinh, b. 1972, Colonel
• Pham Cong Huy, b. 1993, Captain
• Duong Duc Hoang Quan, b. 1992, First Lieutenant
• State media reported that all three individuals were “killed” by “resisting elements” and were granted the honorary title of “martyr” by President Nguyen Phu Trong on January 10.
APPENDIX B: Defense lawyer’s argument
Lawyer Le Van Hoa
Legally representing Le Dinh Cong, Le Dinh Chuc, Le Dinh Uy, Tran Thi La September 9, 2020
I, like many others with a conscience, am deeply saddened by the Dong Tam incident that killed four (including three police officers and one Dong Tam resident, Le Dinh Kinh) in the early morning hours of January 9, 2020 and left other residents with permanent disabilities and their current condition as defendants. Those in positions of responsibility should have predicted this and prevented it from occurring!
In order to contribute to the repair and rectification of mistakes that may still occur, I suggest the Tribunal review and return case files to prosecutors for supplementary investigation to clarify the imperative matters below:
1. The legal status of the 59-hectare parcel of land at Senh Field, Dong Tam commune, My Duc suburban district, Hanoi.
The ambiguity regarding whether the disputed parcel is agricultural land that belongs to the Dong Tam commune authorities or national defense land belonging to the Air Defense – Air Force Arm (of the Ministry of Defense) is the direct and root cause of events that led to the Dong Tam incidents in April 2017 and January 9, 2020.
2. The legal status of the deployment into Dong Tam of thousands of Hanoi riot police in conjunction with another police force belong to the Ministry of Public Security the night of January 8 and early morning of January 9, 2020. Which office decided on this deployment? And was this decision right or wrong?
3. A forensic investigation must be organized to clarify the deaths of three police officers; documentation in case files put together by investigators is not yet convincing. This forensic investigation must be attended by Du Thi Thanh’s lawyer (Le Van Hoa, Ngo Anh Tuan, Dang Dinh Manh) and any other individuals as stipulated by law.
4. The mysterious circumstances surrounding Le Dinh Kinh’s death must be clarified.
The results of the investigation and the Indictment state that because Le Dinh Kinh resisted, riot police forces took the initiative, shooting and killing him. Such results have yet to clarify the (resisting) behaviors and have yet to prove whether such behaviors were dangerous enough to require elimination. In particular, according to defendant Bui Viet Hieu’s testimony, Le Dinh Kinh was shot in the front at a distance of one meter, rather than the back at a distance of 2.5 meters, as charges in the Indictment and the Investigative Results indicate.
Le Dinh Kinh had a clear residential address in Hoanh village, Dong Tam commune, My Duc suburban district, city of Hanoi. He was not caught red-handed committing any crime; neither was he a wanted criminal. Thus, according to regulations in Paragraph 3, Article 113 of the 2015 Penal Code, it is not permissible to arrest him at night (10 PM to 6 AM). As such, even if he was to become
an arrestee of the above case, and even if he was forced into temporary incarceration, litigating bodies could only have arrested him during daytime hours.
Le Dinh Kinh was not an arrestee in any case and did not have any temporary incarceration orders against him. He was residing peacefully in his home. As such, his residence is sacred and inviolable. No one can enter of their own accord without Kinh’s permission (according to regulations in Article 22 of the 2013 Constitution).
Kinh’s life is protected by the law and no one has the right to dispossess him of life in contravention of the law (according to regulations in Article 19 of the 2013 Constitution).
Riot police forces raided Le Dinh Kinh’s home in the middle of the night without his permission. As such, these forces have violated Article 22 of the 2013 Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and article 158 of the 2015 Penal Code (trespassing on another’s residence), and further, this is a matter involving organized trespassing. This crime is regulated at point A, paragraph 2 of the above penal article, with a punishment ranging up to five years in prison.
Not only did they illegally trespass, but these forces also beat and shot Kinh to death, illegally dispossessing him of life, in violation of Article 19 of the 2013 Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, and paragraph 1 of Article 123 of the 2015 Penal Code, with two aggravating circumstances: murder, with thuggish and organized natures. (points N and O).
5. Request the Tribunal carry out criminal proceedings for the murder case according to the petition filed by Mrs. Du Thi Thanh (born 1950, resides at 1A, Hoanh village, Dong Tam commune, My Duc suburban district, city of Hanoi) – Mrs. Du Thi Thanh is the wife of Le Dinh Kinh.
Myself, along with two fellow lawyers, Ngo Van Tuan (Hanoi Lawyers’ Association) and Dang Dinh Manh (Ho Chi Minh City Lawyers’ Association), legally support and protect the rights & legal interests of Mrs. Du Thi Thanh, in the matter of requesting criminal proceedings for “Murder” in the death of her husband Le Dinh Kinh, who was killed by riot police forces-Hanoi City Police during the Dong Tam event in the early morning hours of January 9, 2020.
APPENDIX C: Le Dinh Cong’s court testimony
Lawyer Nguyen Tien Nghia: Did Nguyen Quoc Tien participate in the Dong Tam Consensus group?
N: Did you promise or arrange anything with Tien?
N: Did you all discuss anything with Nguyen Quoc Tien regarding plans to attack the authorities? C: No.
Lawyer Ngo Ngoc Trai: Did all the grenades that you gave to the others explode? C: I don’t know, but I didn’t hear any explosions.
T: When this all happened, where were you?
C: I had been out drinking and didn’t return home until 7 in the evening, when I saw everyone packed around my father’s house.
T: Where were you the night of January 8, 2020?
C: At Kinh’s house.
T: Was there anyone hostile in Kinh’s house?
C: No one.
T: Try to remember, what was the duration of the entire event?
C: Approximately a little more than an hour.
T: Before there was an attack, did approximately 10 individuals stand in front of the gates cursing at the authorities?
C: I don’t know. I lit fireworks and threw rocks.
Lawyer Le Van Luan: Were you able to fully observe the contents of the clip on September 7? C: No.
(Luan requests the court permit a replay of the clip so that the defendant can see it clearly. The presiding judge responds that the clip had already been broadcast publicly and thus there was no need for a replay.)
L: That clip was broadcast on VTV, were you able to watch it?
C: Not yet.
L: What role did you play in the Dong Tam Consensus group?
C: I had a livestream role.
L: What was your role?
C: I organized a meeting to discuss the legal evidence surrounding Senh Field’s land. L: The content of your livestream involved the procedure to sue over land?
L: Were you advised to resolve the land dispute by suing in court?
C: I did not agree with the surveyor conclusions and had yet to sue.
L: Were you planning to sue in court after?
C: We will sue in the Supreme Court.
L: Did you know Mr. Hieu’s house was splattered with fermented shrimp paste? C: I had heard once
L: Did you know if Kinh’s arrest was related to the complaint over land?
C: Yes. We’ve been threatened with arrest many times already.
L: Did you let the government or anyone else know that you were being threatened? C: No because I was afraid people would be alarmed.
L: Did you play any role in the preparation of means and instruments to oppose the authorities? C: After I heard the determination of the Hanoi People’s Committee to reclaim Senh Field, we were resolute in protecting the land. We prepared Molotov cocktails, bricks, and grenades to protect the land, only on our last leg would we use the grenades (when under attack), and we would only use them after a verbal command.
L: You threw a grenade but didn’t pull the pin?
C: I threw a deterrent. I know how to use them.
L: You threw it as a warning?
L: Did you and others participate in discussions regarding resisting the authorities? C: No. I only heard Mr. Nguyen Van Thang call and tell me that Kinh would be arrested tonight. I told Tuyen, who laughed and said where is Kinh even to be arrested.
L: Why did you have to protect Kinh?
C: Everyone aimed to prevent Kinh’s arrest.
L: When was the Mieu Mon fence built?
C: Around the end of December.
L: Was its construction complete?
L: When national defense constructed the fence, did you men oppose it?
C: No, it all went very smoothly.
L: When the incident occurred, did you hear gunshots or grenade explosions? C: Kinh’s house was shot to pieces.
L: Did you know 3 cadres fell down a sky well and died?
C: I didn’t know three had died until the third day after my arrest.
L: Throughout the event on January 9, 2020, did you men discuss attacking anyone? C: No.
L: You have a livestream stating you would resist the authorities?
C: That’s existed for a while, it’s not from the time the fence was being built. L: Where were you before you were arrested?
C: I sat beneath the alter cabinet and did nothing.
Lawyer Bui Ung: Did you direct defendant Tien to buy 20 liters of gasoline? C: I absolutely did not direct him.
Lawyer Ngo Anh Tuan: How many grenades did you ask Nguyen Quoc Tien to buy? C: 10 grenades over two purchases, 6 the first time and 4 the second.
T: Who did you give the grenades to?
C: At the beginning I gave Tuyen 2, Tien 2, and I kept 2; the last 4 I gave to Chuc, Due, Quang, and Hai 1 each.
T: Besides those 10 grenades, did you keep any others?
T: Among your family or that of Mr. Kinh, were there any other grenades?
T: Do you think Kinh had any other grenades?
C: Absolutely not.
Lawyer Duong Le Uoc An: Have you proposed that the Tribunal and procuracy representatives make public the Hanoi City Police plans for maintaining order and security? C: I would really like it publicized so that we defendants can know, so that those who are guilty can be drawn and quartered.
(Lawyer An proposes that the court make public the Hanoi City Police plans for maintaining order and security as the defendant had suggested. The Tribunal sees that it is unnecessary to publicize this document. The Tribunal reads a portion from the indictment but Lawyer An objects because it is not an official document of the plan).
A: Could you let the Tribunal know how far away Senh Field is from the village? C: About one kilometer.
A: Did the authorities return to Senh Field or the village that day?
C: To Hoanh village.
Lawyer Nguyen Quoc Hoan: Was defendant Quan in the Dong Tam Consensus group? C: No.
H: Did you talk to Quan about anything the night of January 8, 2020? Did you hear anyone say anything to Quan?
Lawyer Nguyen Hong Bach (counsel for the police officers’ families): The suicide group was established in 2018, right?
C: There has never been a suicide group.
B: Is the testimony given during the investigation phase that there was a suicide group correct or incorrect?
B: Then why did you sign it?
C: I’ve never testified that there was a suicide group.
B: What was the purpose of preparing instruments and means?
C: The overarching objective was to keep the land.
B: You didn’t ask Phan to buy gasoline, correct?
B: In previous testimony you stated that you had asked Phan, correct?
C: Correct. But on that day, I had been beaten repeatedly; I was hit across the head five times, falling out of my chair and testifying haphazardly.
B: Was Nguyen Van Trung present at the January 9, 2020 event?
C: At the beginning, I heard Trung’s voice, but afterwards, I no longer saw him. B: Are you responsible for the deaths of the 3 police officers?
C: I absolutely do not know, only after 3 days did I become aware (of the deaths), but I am at fault here so I apologize to the families of the victims.
Lawyer Phuong Anh (counsel for the deceased police officers’ families): During the interrogation with your lawyer present, were you forced to give false testimony?
Lawyer Phan Thi Mai: What’s the relationship between you and the defendant Bui Van Tuan? C: Tuan is my adopted child.
M: What did you call Tuan up for?
C: I didn’t call.
M: Then why did Tuan appear at Kinh’s house?
C: I’m not sure.
Lawyer Nguyen Duy Hung: On the night of January 8, 2020, did you take the initiative to pick up Mr. Tuyen or did Mr. Tuyen take the initiative to pick you up?
C: Mr. Tuyen took the initiative.
H: What job did you allocate him?
C: I didn’t do any allocating.
H: What was the purpose of making Molotov cocktails and other instruments? C: To protect the land.
Independent media questionnaire sent to
the Ministry of Public Security
Luat Khoa Magazine, January 13, 2020: Inquiry sent to To Lam, Minister of Public Security, regarding the Dong Tam attack
A. Regarding the event the night of January 9, 2020
1. The attack that authorities refer to as a “forceful reclamation” the night of January 9, 2020 began and ended at what times? Where?
2. Which individuals or bodies signed the approval letter for the “forceful reclamation”?
3. Which units of the various security forces participated in the “forceful reclamation”? How many individuals participated in total?
4. What methods, weapons, and equipment did security forces use during the attack, including those transported in?
5. What is the legal basis for using weapons?
6. Regarding the police accusing the Dong Tam villagers of “storing weapons” and “killing people”: could you please describe specifically the instruments and equipment used as “weapons” and how they were stored? At what point in time did the authorities know that the villagers of Dong Tam had “stored weapons”?
7. Many witnesses have reported that the Dong Tam area had its electricity, phone, and internet cut prior to the attack. Is this accurate? If so, why did this phenomenon occur?
8. Are you aware that security forces attacked Le Dinh Kinh’s residence? If so, could you provide the rationale and describe specifically the method of deployment?
9. Regarding villagers who had their land forcefully reclaimed and/or had their houses broken into the night of January 9, what response do you have on behalf of the forces involved in the attack?
10. How many local people died the night of January 9? Who were they, and how did they die?
11. Why was the corpse of Le Dinh Kinh at the Dong Tam village headquarters? How did the authorities discover that he died, when, where, and in what context? Why was Mr. Kinh’s corpse operated on? What conclusions did autopsy officials draw? Many witnesses describe bullet holes through Mr. Kinh’s heart and head. Is this true? If so, why was Mr. Kinh struck? Who shot Mr. Kinh?
12. Based on information from the MPS, attacking forces also lost lives. Could you provide the exact number of lives lost and causes of death, as well as their names, ages, units, and positions?
13. How many people were arrested the night of January 9, 2020 and who were they? Where are these people currently and under what conditions? Have they been able to contact lawyers or family, or receive any medical care (as stipulated by Vietnamese law and international human rights standards)?
14. Estimated damages to property belonging to the families attacked the night of January 9th totals how much? And the damages to materials belonging to the attacking forces? Our sources have indicated that Le Dinh Kinh’s family has lost both a cash drawer and a private car. How do you explain this?
B. Regarding the work of journalists
1. Did the MPS prevent journalists from reporting at the scene of the event, or control the information they could report?
2. Which press bodies were “allowed” to report from the scene of the event?
3. What standards does a press body need to meet in order to report from the scene of the event? 4. Which body approves and authorizes this? And the legal basis for this activity?
5. Information on the websites “Riot Police”, “PK-KQ Channel”, and “Association of Ha Tinh Countrymen”… all accuse the Dong Tam villagers of “terrorism”, “murder”, “storing weapons”, “obstructing officials”, and “treason”. Did the MPS provide these websites with that information? Are their views also the official views of the MPS?
6. As of this very moment (4:50 PM, January 11, 2020), our sources tell us that the Dong Tam area is still under complete lockdown, with strict security precautions implemented. Why?
C. Regarding the legal basis surrounding the attack
1. Make public the legal basis for the 59 hectares of land (that the people of Dong Tam refer to as “Senh Field”).
2. Make public the records for all stages of the Mieu Mon Airport plan.
3. Make public the letter of approval for the “forceful reclamation” the night of January 9, 2020.
Post-preliminary trial questions
posed by civil society groups
Excerpted from “Protest the unjust sentence in the Dong Tam trial” – an online petition by the group Active Citizenship, September 14, 2020
“This is an unjust judgment handed down in an unfair trial, given the Tribunal ignored a number of substantial issues:
1. What is the legal status of the 59-hectare parcel of land at Senh Field, Dong Tam commune, My Duc suburban district, Hanoi?
The ambiguity regarding whether the disputed parcel is agricultural land that belongs to the Dong Tam commune authorities or national defense land belonging to the Air Defense – Air Force Arm (of the Ministry of Defense) is the direct and root cause of events that led to the incident on January 9, 2020;
2. A number of defendants were charged with “obstruction of officials”. What duties were officials carrying out at the time of the alleged offense?
The right of Hanoi riot police and other police forces to enter Dong Tam the night of January 8 and the morning of January 9, 2020, is unclear. What document provides the legal basis for law enforcement to enter Dong Tam during nighttime hours? Who has the power to authorize such a deployment?
3. Why did the police force entry into Mr. Le Dinh Kinh’s private residence, shooting and killing him?
According to official investigation, the police task force “was against the back door behind Le Dinh Kinh’s house” and “discovered that Le Dinh Kinh was holding a grenade”; therefore, he was shot dead. However, at the time, Mr. Le Dinh was in his home; he was not an arrestee in any pending criminal cases. As such, what document gives police the right to break into his residence and shoot him? Furthermore, according to the direct testimony of Bui Viet Hieu and other defendants at the preliminary trial, Le Dinh Kinh was not holding any grenade in his hand;
4. What led to the deaths of the three policemen? How can justice for them be found when the authorities did not conduct a forensic investigation of these policemen’s deaths?
At the preliminary trial, the defendants’ testimonies and responses were inconsistent with the investigative results recorded in the indictment. Nonetheless, the relevant authorities have not conducted a forensic investigation of any of the four deaths in the matter.
5. Why were a number of lawyers not allowed to meet with defendants during the investigation process? Why didn’t the court turn case files around for further investigation, given that 19 defendants stated in court that they were coerced and tortured during police interrogation?
Events during the investigation and indictment proceedings display serious violations of procedural fairness. Concurrently, there are clear indications of defendant coercion and torture, based both on their appearance during televised “confessions” (e.g. pictures of the four defendants Nguyen Van Tuyen, Mai Thi Phan, Bui Viet Hieu, and Bui Viet Tien that were shown on VTV1 news on January 13, 2020) and according to the defendants’ direct responses in the preliminary trial on September 9, 2020 (e.g. Le Dinh Cong responded to lawyers that he was “repeatedly beaten for ten days” after he was arrested; and when lawyer Dang Dinh Manh asked all 29 defendants at the same time to indicate whether they had been tortured, 19 indicated that they had.)
As the five grave reasons above remain unaddressed, we strongly oppose the unjust judgment handed down by the court.
We call for justice for the 4 individuals who died of unknown causes on January 9, 2020. We call for justice for the 29 Dong Tam residents sentenced in a miscarriage of justice. We urge all Vietnamese citizens to act in the name of justice and stand together with the voiceless.”