Dong Tam: Is there any hope of sentence reduction for Mr. Le Dinh Cong and Mr. Le Dinh Chuc an appeal hearing?

Mr. Le Dinh Chuc (left) and Mr. Le Dinh Cong, two sons of elderly communal leader Le Dinh Kinh, were sentenced to death in the first-instance hearing on September 14, 2020

Some legal lawyers for 29 Dong Tam land petitioners told BBC News Vietnamese that there is still little hope of sentence reduction for some of the defendants convicted of “murder” charges at the recent trial.

Among the defendants convicted by the People’s Court of Hanoi on September 14, Mr. Le Dinh Cong and Mr. Le Dinh Chuc, two sons of elderly communal leader Le Dinh Kinh, were sentenced to death.

With the same charge of “murder,” Mr. Le Dinh Doanh (grandson of Mr. Le Dinh Kinh) was sentenced to life imprisonment and Mr. Bui Viet Hieu was given 16 years in prison.

Mr. Cong and Mr. Hieu are the two people who often appeared in the Livestream videos discussing Dong Tam land protection of the Dong Thuan group.

Speaking to the BBC after the trial, lawyer Ha Huy Son said:

According to the verdict of the first-instance hearing, there is an absurdity in that the actions of Mr. Bui Viet Hieu and Mr. Le Dinh Cong were not related to the murder.”

Therefore, are they convicted of murder because they played an active role in the Dong Thuan Group in the process of land lawsuits? Is their behavior just against on-duty state officials, like then they have to change the allegation against the two guys so they would receive lower sentences.”

It can be seen from the case record. This is also a hope that the court will change the charges against Mr. Hieu and Mr. Cong.”

As for Mr. Chuc, lawyer Ha Huy Son said that his testimony in the first-instance hearing was “unreasonable” so if at the appeal hearing, Mr. Chuc gives the truth, he can save himself from the death penalty.

During the first-instance hearing, I found Mr. Chuc’s testimony unreasonable in that: he said many times he poured gasoline into the basin to spill it into the pit. It makes no sense because the fire would hit himself and he was unable to do the act.”

I hope that Mr. Le Dinh Chuc will honestly testify in the appeal.”

I suspect that Mr. Chuc has some agreement with the investigating agency to accept such acts to save his brothers in his family.”

If Mr. Chuc tells the truth at the appeal hearing, he can save himself,” said lawyer Ha Huy Son.

Attorney Ngo Anh Tuan also told BBC News Vietnamese that there is “great hope” for Mr. Cong, while Mr. Chuc is “not sure.”

Mr. Tuan explained: “There is a connection between the death of the police officers and the behavior of Mr. Chuc, but our lawyers have to consider carefully to assess the extent of that connection.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Cong has absolutely no actions directly related to the deaths of three police officers. If the court cannot prove the organized nature of this matter – Mr. Cong discusses to kill people – it cannot be said that Mr. Cong was the one directing the killing. His action can only be ‘resisting on-duty state officials.’

In addition, other defendants such as Nguyen Van Tuyen and Bui Viet Hieu (both convicted of ‘murder’) related to other acts and not related to murder, so charging these people with murder is unreasonable.”

Lawyer Tuan also told BBC or that the defense lawyers for 29 Dong Tam defendants still have many documents and evidence that have not been fully disclosed, and will be announced in the appeal hearing.

Mr. Chuc changed his testimony when he appeared in court

Lawyer Le Van Hoa, who directly defended defendant Le Dinh Chuc, told BBC News Vietnamese:

Before the trial, when I met the defendant in the detention center, Mr. Chich completely opposed the conclusion of the investigation and the indictment that he repeatedly poured gas into the basin and poured into the pit to cremate the three police officers.”

Mr. Chuc said that he did not pour gasoline into the basin and poured it 3-5 times into the pit with the pot, pouring once every 3-5 minutes as the indictment said. He said he only poured gasoline out of two can lids, then sneezed. Mr. Chuc also said that he heard another defendant Hai saying that someone was in the pit, but he himself could not see and hear the sound of people, only saw fire.”

But when he went to court, Mr. Chuc and some other defendants surprised us because they pleaded guilty and acted as if they really did,” said lawyer Hoa.

Regarding the process of contacting Mr. Chuc before the trial, lawyer Hoa told the BBC that each time he only discussed with Mr. Chuc about 30 minutes. The brief communications took place behind a glass partition, and always accompanied by two policemen.

During that half-hour, I only encouraged Mr. Chuc’s spirit, explaining the rights and obligations of the accused. I also asked him an important detail about the reason for the wound on his head. (Mr. Le Dinh Chuc was seriously injured, had almost half of his right skull flap). Mr. Chuc said that in order to avoid bullets, he ran over to a neighbor’s house, Le Dinh Hoi. But as soon as he ran over, he heard a sound. Then he didn’t know anything, and he didn’t know why he was injured.”

The police present always makes it difficult for not only me but every lawyer, to contact the defendants. They do not allow the lawyers to fulfill our duties to get details for preparing a defense. I could not instruct and tell Mr. Chuc what to say when he went to court because two police officers prevented him from asking,” Hoa told the BBC.

Need to continue to propose investigation of the killing of Mr. Kinh

Mr. Le Dinh Kinh broke his leg and returned from the hospital in 2017 and was welcomed by the villagers of the same heart as a spiritual leader.

Lawyer Ha Huy Son said that the defendants’ families are not allowed to visit and meet them in the detention center. Therefore, in order to continue efforts to clarify many issues that are unreasonable or lacking in investigation conclusions with hope to reduce the sentence for the defendants, family members have to continue to send their petitions the authorities.

Mr. Son said “In my opinion, the family of Mr. Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc can focus on petitioning to investigate the behavior that Mr. Le Dinh Kinh was illegally killed and conduct crime scene re-enactment under the indictment.”

Is it possible to burn gasoline like that? Can an animal like a buffalo or a cow be thrown into a hole the same size as the one in the case?”

Whether burned or not, it is also a convincing evidence. And other appeals procedures like the petition, depending on the person who was convicted. If they do not want to appeal, no one can do anything for them.”

At court, I have also raised the issue of experimentally re-investigating the behavior of the defendants, to see what the cause of the three police officers’ death. That at the first-instance hearing the court refused, it is unclear whether the appeal hearing’s court will accept or not.”

In addition, according to lawyer Ha Huy Son, family members can request to publicize the plan of the Hanoi Police to enter Hoanh village in the morning of January 9, 2020 to do what kind of service. This was the defense lawyers’ request in the first-instance hearing but the court refused.

As for the case that Mr. Kinh is believed to be murdered, the family can file a denunciation to the competent investigating agency to verify. This is Mr. Kinh’s widow, Mrs. Du Thi Thanh, has filed a denunciation. The family can continue to petition, make a complaint to the procuracy at all levels, or it can petition to the Judicial Committee of the National Assembly or petition to the state president.”

Lawyer Le Van Hoa also shared this idea. He said that it is necessary to clarify three things that the lawyers proposed to the court, including: clarifying whether the police plan to enter Dong Tam was public service or not, experimental investigation of the death of three police officers, and Investigation to clarify the death of Mr. Le Dinh Kinh.

If these three factors are carried out scientifically, accurately, with the supervision of the authorities and the presence of lawyers, there is absolutely hope to reduce the sentence, change the charges against the defendants. Because currently these three factors in the investigation indictment are not objective and led to the unconvincing convictions of the defendants,” lawyer Hoa told the BBC.

Denunciation of Mrs. Du Thi Thanh

In a recent development, Mrs. Du Thi Thanh, the widow of brutally-killed Le Dinh Kinh, sent a urgent denunciation’ to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Kim Ngan and Minister of Public Security To Lam to denounce Mr. To An Xo, a spokesman for the Ministry of Public Security, for calling her husband a “new evil power.”

When he made this statement, my husband was still not charged with any charges, and when my husband was killed he was still a party member with no criminal record.”

Mr. To An Xo violated the law seriously, insulting the spirit of the deceased, Mr. Le Dinh Kinh.”

While the ‘murder crime’ denunciation I sent to the competent authorities has not been settled by anyone to investigate my husband’s murderer, now Mr. Xo continues to insult my husband,” she wrote.

Attorney Ngo Anh Tuan confirmed to the BBC that there was the incident that Mrs. Du Thi Thanh sent this denunciation.

The first step to seek justice for Dong Tam land petitioners?

Meanwhile, lawyer Phung Thanh Son proposed the first four steps to “vindicate” the Dong Tam defendants on his personal Facebook.

Firstly, Mr. Le Dinh Kinh’s family members need to hire a unit that has the function of redrawing the detailed design of his house and the surrounding houses;

Second, take pictures and videos to explain the drawing to the reader easy to follow about this design.

Third, publicly post detailed drawings, pictures, videos and indictments or the conclusion of the investigation of the Dong Tam case on social networks so that youTubers at home and abroad have enough information to reconstruct the scene when conditions allow.

Fourth, YouTubers can livestream the whole experimental investigation process for people to follow.

However, lawyer Ha Huy Son said that going into the land issue in Dong Tam does not solve anything in the case. If the families of the defendants want to prove anything more about Dong Tam land, this will only affect the public opinion and not any legal impact, because in this case the defendants were convicted of “murder” and “resisting on-duty state officials” occurring early in the morning of January 9, 2020, in which land dispute was only one cause of this incident.

According to lawyer Ha Huy Son, international organizations interested in human rights should directly contact the defendants’ families to help, because they are all peasants, do not have enough knowledge and relationship to seek out these organizations.

What does the Vietnamese authorities say?

In the first-instance hearing on September 7-14, the court determined that Mr. Cong was the mastermind, and Mr. Chuc was the person who “repeatedly burned three policemen alive,” so although the defendant “repented” but “the court found necessary to remove them ermanently from society.”

On the same day, before the court announced the verdict, the People’s Police newspaper published an article tittled “Political conspiracy in Dong Tam case”  which cited the remarks by Mr. Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Regional Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) to oppose the death penalty. The article comments that these are “superficial information about the situation of the case, negatively affecting the reputation and image of the Party and State of Vietnam.”

The article also cited international newspapers reporting about Dong Tam, claiming that the case was “politicized” and “internationalized” in order to create a one-sided, dark picture of the socio-political situation in Vietnam and undermind the leadership of the Communist Party.”

With the serious crimes committed, the defendants in the Dong Tam case will certainly face appropriate penalties. No one, no reason can justify their criminal behaviors,” concluded the article. (Translated)