Eleven civil society organizations called on the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council in an open letter on Friday to condemn next week’s trial in Vietnam of 29 villagers detained after a deadly land clash near Hanoi, saying the group had only tried to defend their property against a government land grab.
During the past nine months following the arrest of the Dong Tam villagers, none of them have been allowed to see their families, said the letter addressed to U.N. Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, president of the Council, and signed by Reporters Without Borders, Brotherhood for Democracy, Viet Tan, and other human rights and democracy advocacy groups.
“They were also barred from seeing their lawyers,” the letter said.
“The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Vietnam is a signatory, enumerates in Article 14 that a fair trial entails ‘adequate time and facilities for the preparation of [their] defense and to communicate with counsel of [their] own choosing,” the NGOs' letter said.
“[But] these procedural guarantees have been consistently violated leading up to the trial of these 29 individuals, rendering claims against the defendants arbitrary.”
And though the court trying the case has announced that the trial will be open to the public, “family members of the 29 defendants have not received paperwork from the court allowing them to attend,” the letter said.
The group of 29 are set to face trial Sept. 7 for their involvement in a deadly clash over land rights that left three police officers and a protest leader dead in January at the Dong Tam commune outside Hanoi.
Dong Tam village elder Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was shot and killed by police during the Jan. 9 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.
Three police officers were also killed in the deadly clash.
Charges of murder, obstruction
The Hanoi People’s Procuracy on June 25 released indictments on 25 of the detainees after a 20-day investigation, according to state media, accusing the slain man’s son Le Dinh Chuc, and grandsons Le Dinh Doanh and Le Dinh Uy of murder, with 22 more charged as being accomplices to murder.
If convicted they could face a minimum of 12 years in prison or be given the death penalty.
Four others from the village were accused of obstructing officers in the performance of their duty, a charge that carries a jail sentence of between two and seven years.
Over 30 defense lawyers are expected to be present at the trial.
Writing to the Human Rights Council, signers of the Sept. 4 letter called on the U.N. to demand that Vietnam conduct a “fair and open trial” of the group and allow defendants to meet with their lawyers.
US urges transparency, justice
Reached for comment, the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam said, “We follow developments of this nature very closely and will continue to follow the case as it moves through the Vietnamese court system.”
“We urge the Vietnamese government to ensure actions and procedures for resolving competing property interest cases are transparent and just, conform to the letter and spirit of its laws including the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code, and are consistent with the human rights provisions of Vietnam’s constitution and its international obligations and commitments,” the Embassy 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.
Defendants’ family members, nongovernmental organizations, and foreign journalist should also be allowed to attend, and U.N. representatives should be present “to observe and report on the trial to minimize risks of abuses of law occurring,” the letter said.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.