A court in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi on Friday told state media that it had received appeal petitions for five defendants who received harsh sentences last month for their involvement in a deadly land-rights clash in January at the Dong Tam commune.
The court told the media that the five defendants in their appeal petitions said that their sentences were too harsh for first time offenders.
Brothers Le Dinh Chuc and Le Dinh Cong, both sentenced to death Sept. 14, had been charged with murder in the deaths of three police officers who were killed in the Jan. 9 clash when they were attacked by petrol bombs and fell into a concrete shaft while running between two houses.
Their father, Dong Tam village elder Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was also killed during the early-morning raid on the village by 3,000 security officers intervening in a long-running dispute over a military airport construction site about 25 miles south of the capital.
Le Dinh Cong’s son Le Dinh Doanh was sentenced on Monday to life in prison, while another defendant, Bui Viet Hieu, was given a 16-year prison term and Nguyen Quoc Tien was handed a 12-year term.
The five were among 29 defendants who were simultaneously sentenced last month, with the other 24 receiving sentences that ranged from 15 months probation to 13 years.
A lawyer representing some of the clients told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Friday that seven of the defendants had intended to appeal, two more than the court reported.
“It may take a few days for mail from the prison to reach the court therefore the court may not yet have updated the information or there might be other obstacles,” said defense lawyer Ngo Anh Tuan.
“My information comes from the other lawyers who were meeting directly with the convicted prisoners, so it can’t be wrong,” Ngo said, adding that at least one other petition had been sent Sept. 29.
Under the law, a petition for review must be filed and stamped by the prison no later than 15 days after the first instance court issues a verdict. When it arrives at the court is not relevant to the appeal process.
RFA’s Vietnamese Service called the Hanoi People’s Court Friday for further clarification on the discrepancy but no one answered.
On Sept. 25, more than 60 members of the European Parliament sent a letter on the human rights situation in Vietnam to the EU’s trade commissioner other top officials, pointing to Dong Tam as one example of “alarming news” coming out of Vietnam after the parliament approved the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement in February.
The letter raised detentions of political prisoners, bloggers and journalists, and land grabs, including the Dong Tam incident.
“Routine land grabbing is often the root cause of violence. It triggered tragic events in Dong Tam last January… Once in custody, defenders charged with political offense or highly sensitive issues such as the Dong Tam clash incident have no or no meaningful contact with their lawyers and families,” the MPs said.
“They are often subject to thug violence, torture or other ill-treatment, and their speed-light trials do not meet basic standards of impartiality, fairness and independence of courts. Forced confessions in front of TV cameras also regularly happen,” the letter said.
While all land in Vietnam is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint as residents accuse the government of pushing small landholders aside in favor of lucrative real estate projects, and of paying too little in compensation to farming families displaced by development.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Eugene Whong.