Whistleblowers appeal jail terms in northern Vietnam

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Pham Van Quy (left) and Tran Thi Ha have been sentenced to jail for arguing with a commune official. They said they have been oppressed for years ever since they discovered local officials were involved in the illegal sale of public land.

Two residents in northern Vietnam are appealing prison sentences imposed on them for arguing with commune officers, saying they are being punished for being whistleblowers.

A planned appeal hearing was canceled Monday when the commune officers involved did not show up.

The People's Court of Luong Tai District, Bac Ninh Province on July 31 sentenced Pham Van Quy, 49, and Tran Thi Ha, 36, to nine and 12 months in jail respectively, for causing public disturbance.

Quy and Ha went to Binh Dinh commune office on April 19 to demand that the officers address their previous complaints about encroachment of local public land.

During their argument with the commune's vice chairman Nguyen Van Mac, both sides used vulgar language, and then Quy and Ha challenged several commune police officers when they attempted to diffuse the situation, so they were handcuffed, the indictment said.

The court only criticized Mac for losing his cool, while accusing Quy and Ha of violating public order and negatively affecting the agency's normal activities.

Do Hai, 55, from a different commune of the district, said he attended the court proceeding and found it "abnormal."

"At the court, Quy and Ha did not plead guilty, but they were forced to.

"I heard that those two have been fighting corruption and suffering infliction as a result."

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The case has attracted many locals who are not related to the defendants. They said they feel "frustrated" with how government agencies have dealt with the case.

While waiting for the appeal hearing, Quy and Ha also lodged complaints to different government agencies.

They said commune officials had illegally sold thousands of square meters of public land in 2005 and sought to clarify the matter.

But when related officials have avoided them, they brought the matter to higher-ranking agencies and have been abused for their efforts.

They said since 2006 they have been assaulted on seven occasions by family members of accused officials.

Ha was beaten at home with a cane by an official's sister in 2008. Quy was attacked by a group of men at his home in 2010.

They also reported all the attacks to local police without results.

In 2009, Quy's nephew, then attending university in Ho Chi Minh City, was called home for military duty even though students are usually exempt.

The boy was permitted to return to school after Quy complained to local media.

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