Vietnamese farmers face murder charge for resisting illegal land revocation

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One of the two houses that were destroyed on Doan Van Vuon's farmland during a revocation on January 5, 2012

Police in the northern city of Hai Phong have demanded that four farmers resisting a high-profile land revocation be charged with murder, though no one was killed.

They also want the farmers' wives charged with fighting officials on duty. 

Doan Van Vuon, 50, the leader of the resistance against the revocation in January this year, his two brothers, and his nephew are in custody since the incident.

Vuon and a brother's wife are to be charged wiith "obstructing officials' mission."

The police have also put out a warrant for two men who fled after the showdown with the authorities.

On January 5, in a highly unusual move some 100 local police officers and soldiers of the city's Tien Lang District stormed Vuon's house to force him to return the land that he and his family had worked for decades.

However, Vuon and his family resisted the evacuation, having been led to believe earlier that a compromise had been reached where he would no longer be asked to vacate the land. They used improvised shotguns and homemade mines to resist the forced evacuation, injuring six policemen and soldiers in the process.

Vietnam's Prime Minister later deemed the revocation illegal as breaking the 2003 Land Law and said it was carried out improperly in several ways, in the size of the force that was used and in the subsequent razing of the two farmers' houses.

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The PM said district authorities also violated the law in allocating 19.3-hectare swampland to Vuon in 1997 for 14 years.

The allocation was made by authorities in response to a proposal by Vuon, who was allocated 21 hectares in 1993 to develop aquaculture farms, as part of the local government's plan to reclaim swampland in the district.

In Vietnam, land is owned by the government and people are given land use rights.

Vietnam land laws, established in 1993, stipulate that all farmland for short term crops and fish farming nationwide are allocated for a term of 20 years.

The 2003 Land Law allows the allocation term to be extended for farmers who are actually using the land agriculturally.

But so far, only one official, the district's deputy chairman, was arrested and that happened only in October 22, though the city government earlier said it will have 50 punished for the illegal land revocation. The official and three others at large face charges of "damaging property."

Legal experts strongly disagree with the charge proposed against Vuon and his family.

Dinh Van Que, former criminal judge at Vietnam Supreme People's Court, told Tuoi Tre it's hard to see what the farmer's did as murder. He said that by murder, the police in this case mean a failed murder attempt, but there's no evidence that the farmers had "planned" to kill someone in the first place.

They only tried to resist the revocation by whatever means possible, and thus should be punished only to the extent of the damage caused, which in this case are several injuries, he said.

"This is a complicated case of high public interest. Related agencies should be careful about maintaining people's trust in justice," Que said.

Nguyen Viet Hung, Vuon's lawyer, said he would ask local prosecutors to reject the proposal and order a reinvestigation.

"The case is a long process, but investigators only looked at the part where Vuon and his family shot at the revocation force."

Hung said the investigation had put the farmers' resistance out of context, as it mentioned nothing about the situation that provoked their action.

He said the revocation has been deemed illegal, thus the officials should not be considered as being on duty, and thus the family cannot be charged with obstructing some official mission.

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