On the afternoon of September 10, after four days of a predicted 10-day trial, the Hanoi People’s Court took a recess and is expected to announce sentencing at 3 pm Monday, September 14, 2020.
Here are the latest events from the fourth day of the Dong Tam trial (September 10, 2020):
Defense session shortened
In an interview with the BBC, defense lawyers stated that during today’s trial, the tribunal shortened the defense portion of the 29 defendants.
Lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng said, “It appeared the tribunal wanted to limit today’s trial to the morning, pressuring us on time and seemingly not wanting procurators to counter argue with (defense) lawyers.”
“Normally, the procuracy must debate in full all matters the lawyers have petitioned, such as the request to send the case back for re-investigation in order to confirm that shortcomings have been addressed, that forensics have been conducted at the scene of the crime, that Hanoi police’s plans for maintaining the security of the Mieu Mon Airport construction project should have been provided to determine if they included a plan to attack Le Dinh Kinh’s residence. The tribunal simply responded that these matters were ‘already clear’.”
Lawyers petitioned the return of files, asked investigators to clarify content
Le Van Hoa, the defense lawyer for Le Dinh Cong, Le Dinh Chuc, Le Dinh Uy, and Tran Thi La, posted his entire defense argument on Facebook.
In it, he requested the tribunal review and return case files to prosecutors for supplementary investigation to clarify the imperative matters below:
1. The legal status of the 59-hectare parcel of land at Senh Field, Dong Tam Commune, My Duc Suburban District, Hanoi.
According to Attorney Hoa, the ambiguity regarding whether the disputed parcel is agricultural land that belongs to the Dong Tam Commune, the local authorities or national defense land belonging to the Air Defense – Air Force Arm (of the Ministry of Defense), is the direct and root cause of events that led to the Dong Tam incident in April 2017 and January 9, 2020.
2. The legal status of the deployment into Dong Tam of thousands of Hanoi riot police in conjunction with another police force fell under the Ministry of Public Security on the night of January 8 and early morning of January 9, 2020. Which office decided this deployment? And was this decision right or wrong?
3. A forensic investigation to clarify the deaths of three police officers; documentation in case files put together by investigators is not yet convincing.
4. The mysterious circumstances surrounding Le Dinh Kinh’s death must be clarified.
5. A request that the tribunal carry out criminal proceedings for the murder case according to the petition filed by Mrs. Du Thi Thanh (wife of Le Dinh Kinh).
Lawyer of three police officers killed opposes a forensic reassessment of the crime scene
According to state-run Laborer Newspaper, lawyer Nguyen Hong Bach, who is defending the rights of the three police officers “sacrificed (in the line of duty)”, opposes a forensic reassessment of the case’s crime scene because it will “re-emphasize the pain and loss for the victims’ families”.
After defense lawyers pointed out a number of issues (with the forensic case), Bach stated that he “felt deeply hurt”.
Bach explained his view: “Could we really recreate such a gruesome murder scene? Who would dare to climb down that sky-well, for others to pour gasoline on?”
He argued that not every part of the crime or the crime scene needs to be recreated for the forensic investigation to be conducted. In this situation, a forensic investigation should not be conducted, said, arguing that doing so would only bring pain to the officers’ families.
Plans to protect Dong Tam are top-secret documents?
On top of opposing a forensic investigation, lawyer Nguyen Hong Bach – who represented the three deceased officers – also rejected the demands to publicize Plan 419A of the Hanoi City Police regarding the maintenance of order and security surrounding Dong Tam Commune.
Lawyer Ngo Anh Tuan had earlier requested the publicizing and clarification of this plan and entering it into the record in order to evaluate the legality and objectives of those on duty the night the incident took place.
According to Attorney Tuan, “The people and lawyers can be skeptical and do not believe that this Plan 419A exists in reality or it can be illegal since it is not publicized. It can be determined that the consequences that happened on such a day (January 9, 2020) were the responsibilities of the leaders of the Hanoi Police Department towards their officers.”
In response, Attorney Bach stated that these plans were “top-secret documents”, and that defense lawyers “had no right to demand (their publicizing)”.
Is participating in a “Consensus Group” formed by the Dong Tam farmers a crime?
On his Facebook profile page, lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng posted an excerpt from his defense argument emphasizing that the presiding judge frequently asked each defendant “the same question” about their participation in the “Consensus Group,” a group formed by the farmers, and headed by Mr. Le Dinh Kinh to deal with land dispute with the government.
According to attorney Mieng, the indictment did not criminalize the establishment of the group. But during its questioning, the tribunal was especially concerned with whether the defendants had participated in the Consensus Group, in order to evaluate their other alleged crimes.
This is a violation of human rights, and the fundamental rights and obligations of citizens, as stipulated in Article 25 of the (Vietnamese) Constitution.
According to Article 25, “Citizens have the right to freedom of speech, press, information, assembly, association, and protest. The exercise of these rights shall be regulated by law.”
“Accordingly, to participate or not in the Consensus Group is a citizen’s right, and no one can use a constitutionally-guaranteed right as the basis of criminalization,” Mieng stated.
Defense lawyers manhandled and tailed after leaving court
Lawyer Nguyen Ha Luan relayed that a shoving match broke out after police officers attempted to confiscate a USB drive and refused to let lawyer Ngo Anh Tuan copy data; another plainclothes police officer shoved lawyers Dang Dinh Manh and Nguyen Van Mieng.
Recounting the incident, lawyer Dang Dinh Manh stated that in the afternoon, after they had left the trial, the three (lawyers Tuan, Manh, and Mieng) were brutally dragged to the gate by the underarms and then straight-arm shoved down the steps, after arguing with police officers to return the USB drive so the lawyers could copy the data over to their laptops.
Afterwards, while traveling on the road, the lawyers discovered that there were four individuals on two motorcycles closely following them. When the lawyers stopped their vehicle, these individuals also stopped onto the sidewalk; when the lawyers continued moving, so did they.
Did the Propaganda Committee issue instructions to journalists on how to cover the Dong Tam case?
On social media, a number of notable figures, such as journalist Nguyen Manh Kim (of The New Viet magazine), disseminated detailed information regarding a document from the Vietnamese Communist Party’s Central Propaganda Committee. The document contained detailed instructions on how state journalists should cover “sensitive issues” related to the trial.
In the section regarding the Dong Tam case, the document directed journalists to:
– Affirm that the suspects had “refused dialogue, reconciliation”.
– Recount the idea that suspects had “attacked [officials] first” (this phrase was emphasized).
– Criticize the “depravity of suspect Le Dinh Kinh.”
– Affirm that the need for the officials to suppress people (at the crime scene) was “pressing” and done “according to regulations.”
– Reflect that the public opinion is in “consensus” with the government regarding the matter, the “support” of citizens regarding the court’s sentencing, and the tribunal’s “fair sense of justice.”
– Report information “in moderation”; do not report “details” or “negative news” regarding “admissions of guilt” or the “repentance” of defendants.
Note that these instructions appeared before the trial began.
Sources of this information publicly stated that they could not post pictures of the document because each instruction form sent to publications has a specific “marking” to help Vietnam’s security forces trace leaks.
We have yet been able to verify this information.
Court to announce sentencing on Monday, September 14
After this afternoon’s session, the trial will temporarily recess for the tribunal to deliberate. It is expected that the tribunal will announce sentencing at 3 pm, Monday, September 14.
This article was written in Vietnamese by Y Chan and previously published on Luat Khoa Magazine. The translation is done by Will Nguyen.