Vietnamese Mother, Son Draw Eight-Year Prison Terms for Land-Rights Activism

The pair had worked to raise awareness of the socially and politically explosive issue of land grabs in the country of 95 million people.

Vietnamese Mother, Son Draw Eight-Year Prison Terms for Land-Rights Activism

A court in northern Vietnam’s Hoa Binh province on Wednesday sentenced land-rights activist Can Thi Theu and her son Trinh Ba Tu to eight years in prison each for posting online articles and livestream videos criticizing the government for its handling of a deadly land-rights clash last year.

The eight-year terms for the pair, who worked to raise awareness of the socially and politically explosive issue of land grabs in the country of 95 million people, will be followed by three years each on probation, the court’s judgment said.

A well-known activist in Hanoi, Theu was arrested on June 24, 2020 with her sons Trinh Ba Tu and Trinh Ba Phuong on charges of “creating, storing, and disseminating information, documents, items and publications opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

The three family members had been outspoken in social media postings about the Jan. 9, 2020 clash in Dong Tam commune in which 3,000 police stormed barricaded protesters’ homes at a construction site about 25 miles south of the capital, killing a village elder.

They had also offered information to foreign embassies and other international groups to try to raise awareness of the incident.

Three police officers also died in the clash.

Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service after the trial, defense attorney Dang Dinh Manh said that the sentences of eight years in prison and three years’ probation were within the range of outcomes expected by the defendants and their lawyers.

“Both the mother and the son were well prepared for the trial,” Manh said, adding, “They were calm, strong, and steadfast. I’ve been involved in many political cases, but I’ve never seen anyone like them before.”

Theu’s daughter Trinh Thi Thao and daughter-in-law Do Thi Thu were allowed into court for the trial, but Theu’s husband Trinh Ba Khiem, who arrived without identification, was not permitted to attend.

Following the trial, Thao and Manh posted accounts of Theu and her son’s statements in court, where both declared they had been the victims of forced evictions ordered by Vietnamese authorities, who they said fail to represent the country’s people.

Theu also said she had been held by police in a small cell housing 10 people, some of them infected with HIV/AIDS, and that when her cellmates fought she attempted to separate them and was injured in the fighting, causing her to bleed.

Her request to be tested afterward for possible infection was turned down by detention center officials, she said.

Tu said in court that a prosecutor named Vu Binh Minh had once cursed at him, and that an investigator told him he would receive a six-year term if he pleaded guilty, whereas he would otherwise be sentenced to a full eight years.

Responding to questions about their posting of livestream videos, both mother and son said they had published the videos to tell the world about land grabs in Vietnam and to call attention to what they called the “wrongdoings and crimes” committed by government officials.

'Travesty of justice'

In a May 5 statement, rights group Amnesty International condemned the sentences handed down to Can Thi Theu—who had been jailed twice before in 2014 and 2016 for protesting government-ordered seizures of land—and her son, calling their conviction “a travesty of justice.”

“Can Thi Theu and her son, Trinh Ba Tu, are brave human rights defenders who should be protected by the Vietnamese government, not harassed and locked away,” said Emmerlynne Gil, Amnesty’s Deputy Regional Director for Research.

“The authorities in Viet Nam should overturn this unjust conviction without delay and immediately and unconditionally release Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu. They were convicted solely for peacefully exercising their human rights.”

“The Vietnamese authorities must release all those unjustly imprisoned in Vietnamese jails,” said Gil.

While all land in Vietnam is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint as residents accuse the government of pushing small landholders aside in favor of lucrative real estate projects, and of paying too little in compensation to farming families displaced by development.

'Anti-state materials'

Also on May 5, police in coastal Vietnam’s Phu Yen province arrested Nguyen Bao Tien, 35, a distributor for the now-shuttered Liberal Publishing House, charging him with “disseminating anti-State materials” under Article 117, according to state media reports.

From August to October 2019, police investigators said, Tien had received 68 parcels containing books with contents opposing Vietnam’s communist government. He had then sent 24 of the parcels to other people and had kept the remainder in his home, where they were found by police, investigators said.

The Liberal Publishing House was founded in Ho Chi Minh City in February 2019 by a group of dissidents who wanted to challenge the authoritarian, one-party government’s control of the publishing industry, and the government later that year launched a targeted campaign aimed at shutting down the publisher and intimidating its writers and associates.

Security forces questioned at least 100 people across the country, and searched the homes of at least a dozen, confiscating books on democracy and public policy printed by the publishing house, according to Amnesty International.

In June 2020, the Liberal Publishing House was awarded the Prix Voltaire for its “devotion and courage” by the Geneva-based International Publishers Association.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Cambodia’s Hun Sen Pushes Vaccines, People Ask For Food

Many have been confined to their homes for weeks, and have been blocked from going out to make purchases needed to feed their families.

Cambodia’s Hun Sen Pushes Vaccines, People Ask For Food

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered military doctors to vaccinate the residents of Phnom Penh’s so-called red zones, areas of the city locked down amid a recent surge of COVID-19 infections, but residents forced to stay at home say their greatest need is food.

Many have been confined to their homes for weeks, and have been blocked from going out to make purchases needed to feed their families, one resident told RFA’s Khmer Service on Wednesday.

“I am begging the government to help us,” said Mong Koeun, who lives with his family in a rented room in Phnom Penh’s Sangkat Stung Meanchey district.

“If we can’t go out to do our daily work as usual, please help us with food or with money so that we can support ourselves,” he said, adding that he recently saw news of a distribution of food in the area, but that his family had been overlooked.

“We have been facing a great deal of hunger and malnutrition so far,” he said.

Mong Koeun’s comments came after Hun Sen ordered doctors this week to vaccinate all residents of red zones, with a voice message sent on May 5 to officials extending the time available for the task.

Nearly 150,000 have already been vaccinated in the red zones, and Cambodia now has enough vaccines available to inoculate at least 520,000 people more, Hun Sen said.

“Another 500,000 doses will arrive [from China] on May 11, and another 500,000 doses will come on May 15. So we will have an additional million doses on hand,” Hun Sen said, adding that residents should observe social distancing when going to get their vaccines.

Non-residents should also not enter the red zones to get vaccines for themselves, he added.

Weeks of lockdowns in Phnom Penh have hurt the city’s poor the most, said Sum Samon, director of the Urban Poor Women’s Development Organization (UPWD). Government has been slow to act, and red-zone residents have been begging for help every day, she said.

“Another problem has been a lack of the things needed to guard against infection, as the poor don’t have enough money to buy hand sanitizer or masks that need to be regularly changed,” she said.

Call for access

In a May 5 statement, New York-based Human Rights Watch called on Cambodian authorities to immediately grant unrestricted red-zone access to United Nations agencies and other aid groups, and to end “abusive police enforcement of public health measures.”

“Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government is failing to meet its obligations during the pandemic lockdown to protect poor and vulnerable communities,” said HRW Asia director Brad Adams.

“The government should immediately allow UN agencies and aid groups full access so they can help hungry people with food, health care, and other essentials necessary for their survival,” Adams said.

In neighboring Laos, 46 new cases of COVID-19 infection were recorded on May 5, with 19 reported in the capital Vientiane, 15 reported in Bokeo province, six reported in Champassak, and six reported in Savannakhet.

A total of 1,072 cases of COVID-19 infection have now been reported in Laos since the pandemic began, with 99 patients recovered, 973 still receiving medical care, and no deaths reported.

The Lanxang indoor sports complex at Donekoy village in the Sisattanak district of Vientiane has meanwhile been turned into one of three makeshift hospitals now operating in the capital.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer and Lao Services. Translated by Sok Ry Sum and Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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