Trials begin in Vietnam controversial land revocation case

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Two trials in the high-profile land revocation case involving a violent clash between farmers and authorities in the northern port city of Hai Phong last year are scheduled to get underway early this month.

In one hearing, which will be held April 2-5, Doan Van Vuon, 51, his two brothers and his nephew will be tried on charges of "murder," though no one was killed in the encounter that took place on January 5, 2012.

Vuon's wife, Nguyen Thi Thuong, and the wife of one of his brothers are also to be charged with "obstructing officials on duty."

On January 5, 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.

In the second hearing, which is slated for April 8-10, 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.

A Nguoi Lao Dong (Laborer) report said eight lawyers will defend Vuon's family at both the trials. 

In 1993, district authorities allocated 21 hectares of swampland to Vuon to develop aquaculture farms as part of the local government's plan to reclaim the wasteland in the district. They gave him an additional 19.3 hectares in 1997.

In Vietnam, people were issued 20-year land leases for agricultural purposes under the 1993 Land Law. During the term, they also had the right to transfer, lease and mortgage the given land.

The 2003 Land Law and Decree 181 extended the allocation term, which had been slated to end in October of this year, for farmers who had been using the land purely for agricultural purposes.

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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