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Land-Grabbing In Vietnam Gets Serious In Urban Areas

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January 4, 2018| In the early hours of the day, various police forces and their accompanying civil security (dân phòng) surrounded an area in Ward 6, District Tan Binh, Ho Chi Minh City known as Loc Hung vegetable garden with bulldozers, firetrucks, and paramedics to forcefully evicted about one hundred households from the land that they have been disputing with the local government for close to two decades.

The residents have spent years on negotiations with the local government, starting from the time the price for their land skyrocketed and the area became desired for development in the early 2000s.

The two sides could not agree on the price. It is estimated that with such a prime location, the value should be more than 100M VND per meter square, but the government rezoned the area and only offered the people around the range of a few hundreds of thousands VND per meter square. The millions of VND in the difference between the two prices eventually killed the talks, and the authorities declared they would use forced eviction in the last few days of 2018.

Now, only less than a week into the new year, the police and security forces were barricading and blocking traffic and people from coming into the area so that they could begin demolishing the residents’ homes starting from around 9:00 A.M.

Throughout the day, our editor, Pham Doan Trang, reported from the scene and stated on her Facebook page that the security police also stationed in front of many dissidents’ homes in Saigon and even arrested Nguyen Tri Dung, the son of blogger Dieu Cay (Nguyen Van Hai) at his home in District 3. Nguyen Tri Dung was later released in the evening of January 4, 2019.

By 9:20 A.M. the authorities cut off electricity, 3G, and Wifi at Loc Hung. The police began to tear down people’s houses in the area with all means available, from shovel and hammer to bulldozer, while calling on the people to voluntary leave the area.

88 households would become homeless without compensation for their land once the demolishment is finished.

By 11:00 A.M., a large area surrounding the garden was completely sealed off by the police. Witnesses described on Facebook that they were asked to provide identification and not allowed to enter.

Face-bookers continued to report the demolishment and the dispute between the local police and the residents with updates and even live-stream videos.

Aerial view of Loc Hung. Sources: Facebook Nguyen Dat An.

According to the residents, Loc Hung is a piece of land estimated to be in between four and six hectares, belongs to the Catholics Church of Vietnam since 1954 with proper documentation, including deeds and other recordings from the former South of Vietnam’s regime. Also, starting from 1954, there were Catholics who migrated from the North of Vietnam to the South after the Geneva Accord took effect that settled in the area. This community has been living in Loc Hung continuously for generations.

In 1993, the residents were trying to register for their right to possess and use the land with the local government (in Vietnam, individual citizens do not own their land as all lands belong to “the people” and under the state’s management, but they can register for the right to possess and usage). The residents alleged that the government intentionally ignored their petitions to record land right’s usage.

Unable to register their land, the people could not construct and develop the area, and instead, relied on vegetable farming to make a living. Their peaceful existence became the thorn in the eyes of the local authorities as the price for the land continued to increase.

Nevertheless, to this day, Loc Hung garden has never been part of any development project, and it is also the most cogent argument the residents and their supporters have against the local government, that there is no imminent reason for the forced eviction and the destruction of hundreds of houses.

By 6:00 P.M. it was reported that at least four people were arrested and some houses have been torn down. The residents strongly opposed the eviction and protested. One person even lay down in front of a bulldozer to protest.

A man lay down in protest. Source: Amen TV

As of press time, there were a total of at least ten people arrested and ten houses destroyed.

The forced eviction came during the time Vietnamese people starting to get ready for the Lunar New Year which will be on February 5, 2019. Seeing hundreds of people become homeless from a land dispute in the middle of the largest urban city in the country has angered many users on Facebook. Information continued to be shared throughout the day, despite the new cybersecurity law went into effect on January 1.

Land disputes and land-grabbing have always been among the most severe issues which test the government’s ability to govern since Vietnam embarked on the economic reform in the late 1980s.

The government of Ho Chi Minh City is already in the middle of a heated controversy regarding land-grabbing and development started from the 1990s in the Thu Thiem peninsula. Forced eviction and ill-planning relocation plans of people living in the development area have dragged the government’s ambitious dream for Thu Thiem through the mud for over 20 years.

Adding Loc Hung – and close to one hundred people living there – to the mix, raises even more concerns about Vietnam’s failure to handle development projects according to the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The Vietnamese communist government has been trying to demonstrate their ability to promote the 16 SDG’s goals with their development projects, especially during their negotiation with the EU for the EU-VN Free Trade Agreement. However, the reality of land-grabbing and forced eviction happening in the country throughout the past few decades cast severe doubts on the government’s claim.

As of tonight, at least ten households in Loc Hung are homeless and without any compensation from the government.

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Pham Doan Trang Received Prize for Impact from Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 Press Freedom Awards

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Photo credits: RSF

On September 12, 2019, our editor Pham Doan Trang had received the Prize for Impact from Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Awards 2019 in Berlin, Germany.

Trang was not able to travel and received her award in person. Instead, our editor Trinh Huu Long and also the editor-in-chief for Luat Khoa magazine was representing Trang to accept it.

Being her colleagues, The Vietnamese magazine’s staff is delighted and honored that Doan Trang received the Impact award. We have all been inspired and moved by her tireless efforts – as she stated – to make sure that “journalism is not a crime anywhere in the world.” Together with her, we all work for Vietnam to soon be a democratic country.

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Imprisoned Dissident – Anh Ba Sam – Encountered Odd Events Before Release Date

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Portrait of Anh Ba Sam. Photo credits: Luat Khoa Magazine.

Journalist Nguyen Huu Vinh (whose pen name is Anh Ba Sam) faced quite a few peculiar encounters in Prison Center Number 5, Yen Dinh district, Thanh Hoa province in recent months.

According to Le Thi Minh Ha, his wife, on December 9, 2018, a man in a police uniform came to visit Vinh in his prison cell and spent an hour and a half talking to him. At the end of their conversation, the man left behind an envelope full of money and told Vinh that after his release from prison he should support To Lam, the current minister of public security – the national police force in Vietnam.

Mrs. Ha told Luat Khoa magazine: “My husband recounted the story to me when I visited him. Neither one of us could grasp what was happening. Who was this man and who had directed him to do such a thing? Was he someone who works for To Lam or someone who wanted to harm To Lam? Nevertheless, it could also be intimidation. We think we should publicize this information to protect Vinh.”

Both Ha and Vinh went to college with the current Minister To Lam in the 1970s, where all three were studying at the People’s Security Academy. This school is where the Vietnamese government trains its future secret police force officers.

Vinh was arrested on May 5, 2014, and at the time, To Lam was the vice minister of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS). He was held in pre-trial detention for almost two years before being convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the rights and interests of other entities and citizens,” and sentenced to five-year-imprisonment on March 23, 2016. Before his arrest, he was the owner of the blog site Anh Ba Sam – one of the most famous online newspapers in Vietnam during the past few years.

Another event – which also caused Ha to have more concerns over her husband’s safety – happened on January 27, 2019, the day of her monthly visit to Prison Center Number 5.

She stated that one prison guard had requested to meet her in private and told her: “On the release day (which will be May 5, 2019), if there are only family members then the center will process the paperwork and release him at the gate of the prison. If there are other non-family members accompanying (you), carrying banners and posters with them, then the prison center will take Vinh to a remote area and leave him there by himself.”

“On March 4, 2019, my husband called me from the prison center in accordance with the monthly allowance of five-minute-phone calls, where he told me that the same prison guard met with him again in private and told him the same thing,” Ha informed Luat Khoa magazine.

Mrs. Ha had already sent a letter of complaint to Prison Center Number 5 on February 1, 2019, to report the previous incident. She received a response dated February 25, 2019, which insisted that no prison guard had communicated any such content to either her or Vinh at the center.

Luat Khoa indicated that its reporter contacted the prison center with the number Ha had provided in April 2019, but the person who answered the phone refused to acknowledge the name of the alleged prison guard. Instead, he stated that the name belongs to someone who lives near the prison center. When the Luat Khoa reporter pressed for the current condition of Nguyen Huu Vinh, the person then said he did not know.

Mrs. Ha had also lodged complaints regarding the threat to release Vinh in a desolate area with Minister To Lam, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the National Assembly Judicial Committee and its Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, as well as Ho Thanh Dinh – The head of the Prison Management Bureau. However, all of her complaints eventually were passed down to Prison Center Number 5 to resolve.

“The person who threatened me and my husband was an officer at Center Number 5, and if all of my complaints were making their way back to this same place, then it would be meaningless. Both of us are feeling anxious and scared now that they (the prison guards) might try to harm Vinh one way or another,” Ha said.

On March 4, 2019, she also sent a letter to an alumni group consisting of her and Vinh’s former classmates at the People’s Security Academy, to suggest that if any one of them is going to accompany her on his release day, then please don’t bring any banner or poster so that they would be “in compliance with” the prison center’s request.

*** This story was first written in Vietnamese by Tran Ha Linh for Luat Khoa magazine on April 12, 2019. The Vietnamese has reviewed all of the complaints and letters which Mrs. Ha submitted and the official reply from the prison center. But because we only received information from Mrs. Ha, we decided at this time not to reveal the names of the prison guard or of the man in police uniform mentioned in this story.

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Exploring Tam Dao National Park, Group Of Vietnamese Youths Robbed And Beaten By Unknown Men

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Pictures recently take by Vietnamese who responded to the call to save Tam Dao rainforest. Photo credits: Save Tam Dao Facebook.

“My body crumbled because of the pain, but this group of strangers continued to beat me while using words to taunt me: ‘Aren’t you scared now, Hung? Don’t you care about your friend, dear?’”

In a Facebook’s post, the victim, Ta Manh Hung, recounted the horrible experience that he and four of his friends encountered on the evening of April 6, 2019, on Tam Dao mountain.

The group was traveling together that weekend, hoping to explore one of Vietnam’s most praised national parks and its rainforest, located in Vinh Phuc province near Hanoi. Prepared to spend the night at a camping grounds inside the forest, yet halfway to the destination, their journey was abruptly cut short when about a dozen strangers, all males, surrounded the group. The men then proceeded to use force to tie each of the youngsters to a tree stump about 20 meters apart and then they assaulted them.

The ordeal lasted for a couple of hours until nightfall, and when the weather began to get cold in the forest, the assailants decided to take off. They left the victims still tied up and took all of their personal property, including their mobile phones, cameras, watches, Kindles, back-up chargers, and the wallets that contained their identification papers.

Cold, scared and beaten, these youngsters, however, were able to use their teeth to slowly untie each other. Afterward, they managed to go to the nearby Tay Thien Pagoda to seek refuge for the night. The next day, local people helped them report the incident to the police of Tam Dao district.

The group’s violent encounter was first reported on Facebook in Vietnam last week. As it went viral, the public started to demand answers from the local authorities, prompting the mainstream media also to cover the story. In an interview with Nation (Tổ Quốc) newspaper, the police of Vinh Phuc province stated that they took the incident seriously and that they would handle it according to the law and regulations.

The public’s anger, however, may also be explained by the fact that Tam Dao national park has attracted the concern of many in recent months. Vietnamese people were wary that an ongoing development project, being constructed in the center of the rainforest might destroy its natural landscape and ecosystem.

A little more than three months ago, there were reports that Tam Dao’s primary rainforest and its diverse fauna and flora were under threat of environmental destruction.

Sun Group – one of Vietnam’s largest real estate developers – together with the government of Vinh Phuc province had initiated the construction of a resort in the middle of the national park. While the developers insisted that they were building an “ecotourism” project, environmentalists in the country decried the idea, stating that it would cause irreversible damages to the hundred-million-year-old rainforest’s ecosystem.

A Facebook group called Save Tam Dao started to document the current stages of theSun Group development project. It also called on others to join in and save the rainforest. Save Tam Dao has received quite a lot of support from Facebook users in Vietnam, especially among the younger generation.

Last month, together with other environmental activists and organizations, this group also initiated an online petition with Avaaz.org, calling on the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to publicly reveal the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment.

Groups of youngsters have also started to travel more frequently to Tam Dao to take pictures of nature’s beauty. Some of those pictures, however, also showed the devastating damage that the resort’s development project had created thus far.

Hung’s group attempted to do the same thing during the previous weekend: travel to Tam Dao and explore the rainforest’s beauty. But its members tragically had a terrorizing encounter where they were robbed and assaulted.

It was, however, quite peculiar that the attackers also forced the group to give up the passwords of their phones. Once able to gain access, they then immediately began reviewing all of the stored messages and photos at once.

Hung was the only one that had refused to give up his passwords. As he later stated, he did not want unknown strangers to intrude on his privacy. The moment he did not comply, his suffering increased. These men tied him up, covered his head and beat him for hours, trying to get him to give up the password.

Irritated by his continuing refusal, the assailants threatened to plant drugs on his body and report him to the police. Then, they carried him up, still with his head covered, and told him that they would throw him down the abyss. Seeing Hung did not respond to the threats, they started to put various types of insects inside his clothes to let them bite him. To prevent others from hearing his screams, they stuffed Hung’s mouth with some handkerchief.

What was so important that the assailants were willing to use such tactics to gain access to Hung’s phone and would even use torture to get it? We may have to wait for the police investigation report to find out more.

This latest attack, however, raised many questions about public security and safety in the area. Tam Dao is a national park; it belongs to all of the people, and all of its people should be able to enjoy its beauty safely. But right now, it seems that not only the rainforest at Tam Dao is crying for help but so are the ones who love it.

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