Vietnam court upholds jail term for fish farmer in infamous eviction case

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Doan Van Vuon, who led his relatives in an armed resistance against local authorities' attempt to evict them from their land, at his appeal hearing. Photo by Thien Binh

The Supreme People's Court has
upheld four and reduced two sentences for six farmers convicted of attempted murder or resisting government officials in Vietnam's most high-profile land revocation case to date.

The court Tuesday upheld the five-year sentences of Doan Van Vuon and his younger brother Doan Van Quy, for attempted murder, which were given to them by the Hai Phong City People's Court in April.

Also convicted of attempted murder, Vuon's older brother, Doan Van Sinh, had his prison term reduced from 42 to 33 months, while his son, Doan Van Ve, saw his reduced from 24 to 19 months.

The judge said he was lenient due to Sinh and Ve's honesty and the case's mitigating circumstances.

Sinh said he recognized his acts were serious and illegal, proposing the court reduce his sentence due to his poor health and his limited understanding of the law, as he is only a farmer.

Ve also asked for leniency, saying his actions caused no injuries and did not negatively impact society. 

His lawyer said Ve was asked to buy guns, but refused to do so after learning they would be used to attack the authorities.

The appeals court did not change the suspended sentences of 15 and 18 months handed down respectively to Vuon's wife Nguyen Thi Thuong, and Quy's wife Pham Thi Bau for resisting government officials on duty.

Thuong and Bau will remain on probation for an additional 20 and 36 months respectively.

The controversial land revocation, which Prime Ministry Nguyen Tan Dung later called illegal, took place on January 5, 2012 when more than 100 armed police and soldiers attempted to evict Vuon from his more than 19 hectares of coastal swampland.

After being issued a 14-year lease to the land in Tien Lang District's Vinh Quang Commune in 1997, Vuon turned it into aquaculture farms.

Seven police and soldiers sustained injuries ranging from minor to serious when they were fired upon by Quy, along with Doan Van Thoai and Pham Thai, who were never arrested and remain at large.

Later that day, authorities demolished Vuon and Quy's homes.

Vuon masterminded the resistance after receiving eviction order from Tien Lang District People's Committee, according to prosecutors.  

Sinh helped erect fences used to prevent the eviction force from entering the land, scattered the straw on the road leading to the houses and to conceal landmines, and helped pay for the guns.

Bau and Thuong helped make fences and bought the petrol used in the resistance.

The Hai Phong People's Court in April also handed down jail terms of 30 months to Nguyen Van Khanh, former vice chairman of Tien Lang District People's Committee, for "damaging property." According to the indictment, it was per his direct instructions that the 100-member force attempted to reclaim Vuon's land.

Pham Xuan Hoa, former director of Natural Resources and Environment Department, and Le Thanh Liem, former chairman of Vinh Quang Commune People's Committee, each received two-year suspended sentences, while Pham Dang Hoan, a former commune Party chief, got a 15-month suspended sentence, also for "damaging property."

Hoa, Liem and Hoan also admitted helping Khanh carry out the eviction, which resulted in estimated property damage totaling more than VND295 million (US$13,959).

The four former officials were ordered to pay Vuon and Quy's families that sum in compensation.

Le Van Hien, former chairman of the Tien Lang District People's Committee, also received a 15-month suspended sentence for "irresponsibility which caused serious consequences," as he had failed to prevent his subordinates from damaging Vuon's property.

The Supreme People's Court is expected to decide later this week whether the sentences of Khanh, Hoa, Liem, Hoan and Hien will be reduced as the defendants have requested, or increased, as Vuon, Quy and their wives have called for.

People do not own land in Vietnam and the government issues land use rights.

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