Second day of trial of the Dong Tam Incident – Summary
Below is a summary of the main events that happened on the second day of the trial.
Court allowed direct contact between attorneys and defendants – for now
According to attorney Le Van Luan, the court granted attorneys direct contact with their clients this morning.
As reported, during the first day of the trial, security at the courtroom prevented the attorneys from interacting with the defendants. When the attorneys demanded the trial panel respect the rights of the defendants and the attorneys, the chairman rejected their request and publicly announced that “it is not necessary” for the attorneys and the defendants to have contact during the trial.
Controversy over “video evidence” presented at the trial
Attorney Dang Dinh Manh pointed out two puzzling issues about the presentation of the “video evidence” on the first day of the trial.
In the questioning section, the court showed a video that was produced in documentary style, telling the story from the state’s viewpoint and depicting how the villagers had wrongfully protested and claimed the disputed land, and how that led to the confrontation which resulted in the death of three police officers. The video ended with miserable scenes of the families of the three police “victims”, showing suffering widows and children.
According to attorney Manh, this was an unprecedented offering of evidence. Everything presented at court during a trial must be evidence related to the case and it has to be real, original, intact and unedited, and not include doctored videos.
In a separate post on social media, independent journalist Pham Doan Trang quoted a source who said that the attorneys objected to the presentation of the doctored “evidence” and demanded hard evidence instead. But the court rejected the objection and instead instructed the attorneys to “just watch the video”.
The second issue was the “confession videos” shown during the questioning of each defendant. These videos were not mentioned in the case files. The attorneys, therefore, had no idea of their existence and had no chance to review them beforehand. Attorney Manh considered this “a trick played on the attorneys,” causing them surprise and anger when they tried to defend their clients during the trial.
The attorneys later co-signed a request submitted to the trial panel and the People’s Procuracy Office in Hanoi, demanding a complete list of this alleged video evidence.
State media: The defendants showed remorse and asked for leniency
Reports on the trial from state media like Dan Tri, Tuoi Tre, etc. all followed the same direction: the defendants pleaded guilty.
Dan Tri reported that “In the court, all defendants admitted their crimes as stated in the indictments, showed their remorse, asked for leniency and at the same time sent their apologies to the families of the three sacrificed police officers.”
Meanwhile, Tuoi Tre reported that defendant Bui Viet Hieu voluntarily “raised his hand asking to speak.” Hieu “apologized to the trial panel” for his statement made the day before and admitted his lack of understanding of land policies.. Hieu then “appealed for leniency since no one should punish a man who already admits his guilt”. In a statement issued on the first day of the trial, Hieu had defended the position of the Dong Tam people regarding the land dispute.
Tuoi Tre also reported that defendant Mai Thi Phan took part in the years-long protest because “Le Dinh Kinh (the head of Dong Tam Village who was killed in the incident) had promised to give a piece of the disputed land to her and the people involved.” The paper depicted the defendant as “shamefully stuttering” while admitting “We know what we did was wrong, we see our guilt now.”
One defendant counter-questioned the trial panel
State media buried other events in the trial, specifically a defendant who questioned the trial panel.
Information published by attorney Dang Dinh Manh told a story about defendant Bui Thi Noi. When the court questioned her, she responded with a request to the trial panel, demanding it answer a series of her questions.
She asked, “Why do you have law but don’t respect the law? Why didn’t the government arrest Noi’s father (Mr. Le Dinh Kinh adopted her as his child) according to the law? Instead, the government tricked him to go to an open field and broke his leg ….” (Bui Thi Noi was referring to the incident that happened in April 2017. It was when the authorities tricked Le Dinh Kinh out of the village and assaulted him, breaking his leg.)
When the chairman of the trial panel repeated his question for the third time, “What did you buy the gasoline for?” defendant Noi answered “To burn the corrupt officials!”
The chairman later ordered the police to escort her out of the courtroom.
Civil society organizations: Request to treat Mr. Bui Viet Hieu as a special witness
A group of civil society organizations initiated an urgent petition addressed to state leaders and collected signatures for the campaign.
Part of the petition requested:
“Treating Mr. Bui Viet Hieu as a special witness with the most special protection measures; it is best to transfer him to another incarceration facility that is not under police control.”
They explained their reason:
Mr. Bui Viet Hieu had directly witnessed a police officer shoot and kill Mr. Le Dinh Kinh in a face-to-face confrontation. This account matches forensic evidence showing two bullets hitting Mr. Kinh from the chest through to his back (completely contradicting the investigation conclusion which stated the shots were fired from the back). Mr. Hieu himself was the second senior member of the Dong Thuan Group (a group formed by Le Dinh Kinh to protest to the authorities on the land dispute).
Mr. Hieu was also shot at the same place and same time, according to his statement: “After they shot and killed Mr. Kinh, they turned their flashlight on my position and fired two shots, aiming at my heart. But the police missed the target and the bullets hit my ribs instead, exploding and causing three wounds in my duodenum and two wounds in my colon. The police left me lying there for hours, from very early in the morning until 11:00 am on January 9, 2020 (the day the incident happened). Only when it was obvious that I was still alive, did the authorities decide to take me to the hospital.”
Defendants’ family: If there are death penalties in the sentence, we will not sit and watch our loved ones die unjustly
Luat Khoa Magazine interviewed Ms. Nguyen Thi Duyen – the wife of defendant Le Dinh Uy and the granddaughter-in-law of Mr. Le Dinh Kinh. Here are some extracts from the interview:
I am very scared that my loved ones will have to endure extremely harsh punishment， despite the fact that it was not us villagers who initiated the attack. It was the authorities who launched the attack on us.
Our relatives and I have heard a lot of rumours that there will be death penalties in this trial. Many people predicted that three members of our family, my father Le Dinh Cong, my uncle Le Dinh Chuc and my brother Le Dinh Doanh, will face the death penalty.
If the people holding power in their hands decide to tear apart our family in this way, they clearly have no conscience. An old man like Mr. Kinh had already died in such a cruel manner in this January 9 incident. I hope the people who are on the trial panel will mull over things before making any decisions because the truth about Dong Tam villagers is far more complicated than many people have depicted.
If there are death penalties, we will never stop fighting to save our loved ones. We will not sit and watch the people we love die in such an unjust manner.
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