Loc Hung Garden Incident: Government’s Forced Eviction Is Without Legal Merits

Quynh-Vi Tran
Quynh-Vi Tran

January 8, 2019| The forced eviction in the area known as Loc Hung vegetable garden in Ho Chi Minh City continued at daybreak today.

At about 5:50 A.M., Facebookers in Vietnam reported that hundreds of police and plainclothes security police had resumed their demolishment at Loc Hung. By 6:00 A.M., the authorities have arrested Cao Ha Truc, one of the leaders representing the Loc Hung residents in their land dispute with the government during the last 20 years, along with his wife.

Truc is among the group of people that have lived at Loc Hung all their life, beginning with his grandparents and parents who were migrating from the North of Vietnam after the Geneva Accord took effect and divided the country in half. The Catholics Church had given his family the land they lived on since 1954, and according to him, they have used it to farm vegetables all these years.

In an interview conducted by an independent news media, Tin Mung Cho Ngươi Ngheo, on January 4, 2019, Truc openly challenged the government on their legal grounds to enforce the eviction of the Loc Hung residents’ homes, asserting that there was no land recovery decision from the authorities.

A land recovery decision (quyết định thu hồi đất) is the first legal requirement to start the process of enforced eviction under Vietnam’s laws. (Article 71, Law on Land 2013).

Attorney Trinh Vinh Phuc (who was one of the defense lawyers for Will Nguyen – a Vietnamese American convicted for inciting public disorder when joining the June 2018 protest), was among a few lawyers who openly supported the residents of Loc Hung.

On his Facebook page, attorney Phuc agreed with Truc and the other residents that the enforcing authorities have yet to produce a land recovery decision to start the eviction process.

Moreover, the law further requires that fair compensation must be provided for the affected residents and that the government must assist with relocation.

Loc Hung residents repeatedly claim that the government did not comply with any of those requirements under the law.

While the image of bulldozers tearing down homes in forced eviction has become a familiar scene in Vietnam’s land dispute cases, the legality of such conduct by the enforcing authorities is questioned. The Law on Land 2013 required that the enforcement team must move both the people and their property outside the enforced area, perform proper inventory, and notify the owners with information on how to reclaim them. The enforcement should also be carried out during regular business hours.

However, according to human rights activist, Nguyen Ho Nhat Thanh, close to one thousand police officers have been mobilized throughout today to demolish Loc Hung garden. More news on social media indicated that the police were preparing for the demolishment throughout the night, turning on public speakers at maximum volume and asking the residents to leave the area.

Other bloggers reported that there were at least five bulldozers at the scene, tearing down people’s houses. Cao Ha Truc and his wife were both arrested today because they have been recognized as the residents’ leaders.

Like the days before, the local authorities also blocked off streets leading to Loc Hung and stopped people from entering the area. The security police of Ho Chi Minh City even surveilled the Church of Redemptorists and prevented the priests from leaving so that they could not go to Loc Hung to show support for the Catholic community there.

Starting from last night, witnesses described Loc Hung’s residents were living in a war-like zone. People were panicking and beginning to move out their property throughout the night in fear that the forced eviction would soon resume.

In the middle of the chaos, yet many residents still managed to gather for a candlelight vigil in front of Lady Mary statute and sang their prayers.

The estimated value of the lost property which the residents will incur is going to be in the billions of VND.

One of the most vulnerable groups living in Loc Hung is the community of some elderly veterans from the South of Vietnam’s army who do not have an immediate family. Most of these men received injuries during the war and because they were soldiers of the “old regime,” they were not given any opportunities or even proper healthcare under the current regime. Now facing homelessness, their already uncertain future appears to be even bleaker.

The house of former political prisoners couple, Pham Thanh Nghien and Huynh Anh Tu, is also among those going to be soon torn down at Loc Hung garden. Both of them are well-known dissidents who remain critical of the government after their releases from prison. The couple has a one-year-old daughter with asthma conditions living with them.

Southeast Asia and the Pacific office of Amnesty International has issued a call for action today, asking the public to contact the local enforcement authorities in Vietnam to demand them to cease their eviction activities in Loc Hung immediately.

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Quynh-Vi Tran

Quynh-Vi was a litigation lawyer in California before becoming a democracy advocate and journalist in 2015. She is also a strong advocate for abolishing the death penalty.