Farmers face jail terms in violent Vietnam land seizure case

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Prosecutors Thursday recommended jail terms of up to six years for six farmers who used weapons against officials trying to seize their lands in Hai Phong last year.

They sought 5-6 years for Doan Van Vuon for attempted murder, and four-and-a-half to five years and three-and-a-half to four years respectively for his brothers Doan Van Quy and Doan Van Sinh.

They asked for a suspended sentence of 20-30 months for Sinh's son Doan Van Ve also for attempted murder.

Quy's wife Pham Thi Bau and Vuon's wife Nguyen Thi Thuong could get suspended sentences of 15-24 for opposing government officials on duty if the prosecutors' pleas are accepted.

At the trial being held from April 2 to 5 prosecutors said Vuon was the mastermind who instructed others to buy arms.

But since he has impeccable antecedents and had served in the army, they said they would be happy with a lenient sentence.

Vuon admitted to the court that he had rejected the district's decision to seize his shrimp farm and told the others to oppose authorities' efforts.

The defendants, seven police officers and soldiers who were injured in the case claim they were not the first to open fire at Vuon's house on January 5, 2012.

Vu Anh Tuan, a policeman in Tien Lang District who was badly injured, however asked for leniency for the defendants.

"I think the defendants did so because of frustration," he told the court.

The judges will pronounce their verdict Friday (April 5).

On January 5, 2012, Vuon led his family to resist some 100 police officers and soldiers of Tien Lang District who stormed his house to force him to return the land where they had been living and working for decades.

The farmers, using improvised shotguns and homemade mines, allegedly injured six policemen and soldiers during the showdown.

The incident raised many questions including the rationale for deploying excessive force in the evacuation, which the Prime Minister has officially dismissed as illegal.

Another hearing is also slated for April 8-10, when five former officials of Tien Lang District, including People's Committee Chairman Le Van Hien, will stand trial for charges of "irresponsibility causing serious consequences" and "destroying property."

Amidst the storm of controversy following the razing of Vuon's house, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung had determined that the revocation had violated the country's land laws, and that it had also been carried out improperly in both terms of the size of the force that was used, and the razing of two houses belonging to Vuon's family.

The case has caused disagreements among legal experts in Vietnam.

Some have suggested that there's no evidence proving that the farmers planned or intended to commit murder, and that furthermore, since that the revocation has been classified as illegal, they should not be charged with resisting an official mission.

It has also led to many calls for revising Vietnam's Land Law, including extending farmers' land use right.

The World Bank, for example, issued a policy note late last year calling on Vietnam to focus on reforms to address prevailing gaps and shortcomings in the Land Law.

In response to the calls, the Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment has introduced the draft of Amended Land Law and has been polling public opinions on it.

The draft is expected to be voted on this year and applied next year.

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