On August 17, the Hanoi People’s High Court upheld its previous conviction in an appeals hearing for the two land rights activists, Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam, previously convicted of “making, storing, and distributing anti-State information, materials, and products” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code.
After their first-instance trial on December 15, 2021, Phuong was sentenced to a 10-year prison sentence and five-year probation, while Tam received a six-year prison sentence and three years probation.
Phuong and Tam, farmers from Duong Noi Commune, Hanoi, were prominently known for defending land rights and campaigning against the Vietnamese authorities’ illegal land confiscations in their hometown in the mid-2000s. The two land activists also raised their voices regarding police raids in Dong Tam Village, another land conflict hotspot, which resulted in the deaths of three police officers and the village leader, Le Dinh Kinh.
Trinh Ba Phuong was also a co-author of the “Dong Tam Report,” which helped shed light on what actually happened in Dong Tam on the early morning of January 9, 2020, when the violent conflict happened. Phuong also met with representatives from the U.S Embassy in Vietnam on February 6, 2020, to raise concerns about the arrests of 27 Dong Tam villagers and call for an independent investigation into the case.
The Vietnamese government has consistently branded the Dong Tam land protestors as “terrorists” and accused them of murdering the deceased police officers. It also intimidated and arrested those who sought to contest this narrative or call for an independent investigation.
The families of Phuong and Tam were barred from entering the courtroom by plainclothes police agents. Their earlier requests to attend the trial were ignored by court authorities. The Hanoi appellate court had earlier declared that the trial would be a public one.
Do Thi Thu, Phuong’s wife wrote on Facebook that the plainclothes police chased them away when the police van carrying her husband approached the court gate area. Thu added that a plainclothes policeman allegedly grabbed her by the nape and pulled her away from the court area while cursing at her. “One policeman even slapped me,” Thu wrote.
Nguyen Thanh Mai, Tam’s daughter, wrote on social media that the Tam family was also not allowed to attend the appeal hearing.
“Vietnam’s hollow promise to support the country’s farmers by providing them with land is exposed by the authorities’ rights abusing treatment of Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam,” wrote Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch, one day before the appeal hearing.
“In their single-minded pursuit of power and profits, government and Communist Party of Vietnam officials have forgotten that farmers were among the original supporters of the revolution, and now they are throwing farmers’ interests out the window,” he added.
Phil Robertson also urged Vietnam’s international donors, UN agencies, and Hanoi-based diplomats to “vocally oppose rights abusing treatment of Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam, and demand the appeals court quash their unjust convictions for actions that simply constituted peaceful advocacy using their civil and political rights.”