- The Hanoi People’s Court tried land rights activists Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam on the morning of December 15. The trial concluded at around 1:15 p.m. on the same day.
- According to attorney Dang Dinh Manh, the court sentenced Trinh Ba Phuong to 10 years of imprisonment and five years of probation; and Nguyen Thi Tam to six years of imprisonment and three years of probation. Phuong’s sentence was longer than the prison term requested by the Procuracy, which was eight to nine years in prison and five years of probation.
- Most notably, families of the two activists had reportedly not received invitation letters prior to the trial. And when they were gathering in front of the court waiting for entry approval, families and relatives of Phuong and Tam were coerced by security forces and subsequently taken to the Duong Noi Police Station around 8.30 a.m.
- Do Thi Thu, Phuong’s wife, previously wrote on her Facebook account that since early morning the security forces had set up “pandemic control” checkpoints at both ends of the alley where she lived in an effort to bar Phuong’s family from attending the trial.
- As of 12 p.m., sources confirmed that Thu was still being detained at the police station and she could not be reached via Facebook. Nguyen Thanh Mai, Tam’s daughter, later said that she had to shut down her cell phone while being held at the police station, expressing fear that the police might confiscate it.
- On her social media, Mai said that the police released them after the court announced the sentences.
- Mai also shared that the police had denied their request to take them back to the court to get their motorbikes since they were forcibly taken to the police station on the authorities’ vehicles in the morning. Their demand, however, had still not been met as of 1:47 p.m. According to Mai, the police instead told them to “pay for a taxi to go home.”
- In the latest live streaming video on her Facebook page at around 7 p.m. on December 15, Mai confirmed that she had safely returned home. According to her, none of the family members or relatives of Phuong and Tam could attend the trial this morning; the court cited COVID-19 preventive measures for their refusal to grant entry permission.
- Mai also shared that she believed her mom had “done nothing wrong,” adding that Nguyen Thi Tam and Trinh Ba Phuong’s vocal criticisms regarding the Dong Tam incident only resulted from the missteps of Vietnamese authorities in handling sensitive land disputes.
Who are Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam?
- Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam are land rights activists in Duong Noi Commune, Ha Dong District, Hanoi City. They became activists after their land was confiscated by the local authorities without just compensation. Phuong and Tam have also been amplifying the voices of farmers at Dong Tam Village, following a police raid of the village on January 9, 2020.
- They were arrested on June 24, 2020, and subsequently charged with “making, storing, disseminating or propagandizing information, materials, and products against the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” in accordance with Article 117 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code.
- Trinh Ba Phuong is the eldest son of Can Thi Theu and the brother of Trinh Ba Tu. Theu and Tu were also arrested in June 2020. They were each sentenced to eight years imprisonment by the Hoa Binh provincial People’s Court in June 2020, under the same charges of “propagandizing against the State.”
What evidence was used to prosecute them?
- According to the indictment, the evidence used to convict Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam was collected from their personal Facebook accounts, mostly from December 9 to 11, which coincided with the Dong Tam incident.
- Phuong was also convicted of possessing the book “A Handbook for the Families of Prisoners” written by Pham Doan Trang.
- The indictment states that the posts and videos they published on their social media contained information that was “defamatory and slanderous of the people’s government,” and it was “propagandizing false information, sowing confusion among the people.”
- According to RFA, Phuong once told his lawyer that the police allegedly threatened to arrest his wife if he did not confess his crime.
What is the international response?
- In a press statement, rights advocate Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the Vietnamese government’s conviction of the two land rights activists.
- HRW urged the Vietnamese authorities to “immediately drop politically motivated charges and release the two land rights activists in Hanoi.”
Trinh Ba Phuong’s final statement
- After the trial’s conclusion, Do Thi Thu published a speech, which was believed to be her husband’s final statement at the court. In the speech, Phuong reaffirmed that he is “not guilty.”
- The final statement of Trinh Ba Phuong was published as follows:
“I fight for the dream that hundreds of people will no longer be beaten to death at police stations in my country.
I fight for the dream that Vietnamese people will no longer leave their hometowns and go to work as manual laborers in foreign countries through the hands of human trafficking organizations disguised as labor export agencies.
I fight for the dream that our farmers’ livelihoods can be planted on fertile lands and that the Communist Party can no longer take our lands away illegally.
I fight for the dream of free elections and that our legislative members will no longer be “appointed by the Party;” and that we the Vietnamese people will no longer be ruled by the Vietnamese Communist Party, an organization that is cowardly towards its enemies and ruthless towards its people.
I fight for the dream that there will be no more suppression and exploitation, and the fact that I am fighting against the Vietnamese Communist Party is a righteous act.
I am not guilty in front of the Vietnamese people and my country. It is the Vietnamese Communist Party that betrays us, sells our country off, and harms the people.
The Vietnamese people and history will pronounce their judgment of the crimes committed by the Communist Party against our nation.”
This report was updated as of 10 p.m. on December 15, 2021, Vietnam time.