Dong Tam case: Two sentenced to death in Vietnam over police killings


Workers putting up a wall around the airport at Dong Tam, Vietnam - pictures from Facebook

A court in Vietnam has sentenced two brothers to death for their role in the killing of three policemen in a notorious land dispute in January.

The other 27 people on trial were given sentences ranging from life imprisonment to 15 months suspended.

Le Dinh Cong and his younger brother Le Dinh Chuc helped mastermind resistance against the police, the court ruled.

Their father, retired local official Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was shot dead by police who had entered Dong Tam village.

The authorities had been trying to secure construction of a fence around land officials were trying to seize next to an airfield.

The raid and the unexplained circumstances around the death of the popular local leader caused huge public controversy. Land disputes are common in Vietnam, but rarely escalate into such conflict.

The two death sentences and long prison terms have been interpreted by many as a warning by the government against resisting seizures of private land, said Tina Thanh-Ha Vu of the BBC’s Vietnamese service.

One defendant, Le Dinh Doanh, received a life sentence, several received sentences of between 12 and 15 years, and others lesser prison terms.

The defence counsel protested that the time allotted to them in court to make their case had been significantly shortened.

What happened in Dong Tam?

Police arrived in the village in January to help secure land seized by the defence ministry around the Mieu Mon airport, close to Dong Tam, as the army built a boundary fence.

The land was already subject to a dispute with villagers, who said they had not been properly recompensed for its seizure.

According to authorities, a group of residents led by Le Dinh Kinh violently resisted the police, and three officers – Col Nguyen Huy Thinh, Cpt Pham Cong Huy and Lt Duong Duc Hoang Quan – were set on fire and burned to death.

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Le Dinh Kinh, a former government official, became a vocal opponent of the land grab

Mr Kinh was later shot dead by police, who said they encountered him holding a grenade. His son, Le Dinh Chuc, was injured in the raid. Deputy Minister Luong Tam Quang said police had seized petrol bombs, iron rods and other weapons.

Mr Kinh’s family and supporters disputed the official account. In the following days, three of Mr Kinh’s family appeared on TV with bruised faces, apparently admitting to possessing homemade weapons and petrol bombs. Rights groups said the confessions were forced, and Mr Kinh’s wife, Du Thi Thanh, said she was beaten by police.

How did the dispute start?

The dispute began about three years ago when the Vietnamese military began work on an airport at Mieu Mon.

Residents complained that about 50 hectares (124 acres) of their land had been unfairly taken over and handed to Viettel Group, Vietnam’s military-run communications company.

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Image caption

Protests first came to a head in Dong Tam in 2017

All land in communist Vietnam is owned by the state, so the government can technically use what it wants for military or civilian purposes. But locals protested that they had not been properly compensated for the seized land, and resisted the attempt to take it.

The dispute first came to wider public attention in 2017, when four people were arrested for “disturbing public order” in protests against the land acquisition.

Villagers retaliated by holding 38 officials, including police officers, inside a community house for about a week. They were eventually released after the authorities agreed some concessions.



BBC News