How is the political and social impact of the first-instance hearing in the Dong Tam case?

The first instance trial ended on September 14 afternoon with 2 death sentences for two sons of Mr. Kinh, a life sentence for the grandchildren of old man Le Dinh Kinh and hundreds of years in prison for Dong Tam villagers

The first-instance hearing to try 29 Dong Tam land petitioners in Vietnam has just ended with two death sentences and many other lengthy imprisonments for key individuals and it certainly created many negative consequences in the country and affected the country’s external image, according to BBC News Vietnamese September 15, 2020.

From Hanoi and Saigon, three Vietnamese political observers, economist Bui Kien Thanh, Dr. Ha Hoang Hop, guest senior researcher at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas). , Singapore) and Associate Professor Mac Van Trang (psychologist) first of all gave their general comments about the Dong Tam hearing and the trial, the court’s ruling.

Dr. Ha Hoang Hop: I saw another “pocket” sentence, justice was not enforced for four deaths: for the three dead policemen “coalized” and for Mr. Le Dinh Kinh, who was killed by riot police. The case was the latest tragedy of land law enforcement based on arbitrary “public ownership“, corruption. The arbitrary trial, not complying with the 2015 criminal procedure law, the right to a fair and public trial of the defendants, and victims have been deprived. Judgment is a form of violent repression.

Associate Professor Mac Van Trang: I can say immediately that the trial of the Dong Tam case of the People’s Court of Hanoi recently is typical of the violations of law: one is no investigation on evidence of how land petitioners killed three police officers, how their bodies were burned, no field experiments etc … impeachment and conviction based solely on the defendants’ testimony, etc. There are many cases of unjust homicide such as Nguyen Thanh Chan, Huynh Van Nen and others in the past.

Second, the Court also violated a series of laws and criminal procedures, which right at the opening session 10 lawyers petitioned the judge to handle. But the trial panel  ignored. The trial of 29 people, including 25 people charged with “murder,” took place very quickly and with comedy. Then the impeachment and condemnation are not reliable enough, not valid.

Mr. Le Dinh Cong’s wound-covered face on VTV (right) and investigator Pham Viet Anh (left), whom Mr. Le Dinh Cong claimed to have hit him for ten days as one. A total of 19 Dong Tam villagers reported that they were beaten forcing their bowels, however, the Court dismissed with a simple statement that was “unfounded”.

The consequences will still spread?

Economist Bui Kien Thanh: From a local criminal case, the trial turned the case into a conflict between the state and peasants, and highlighted the injustice of the disputes over land ownership in the whole country, between state agencies were “granted” land and people were “robbed” of land. The consequences of this incident will be widespread, and likely to lead to an unsettled society.

In addition, the case also highlights the weak nature of the Vietnamese court system. On the first day of the trial on Sept 7, the defense lawyers filed a complaint because the trial contained serious violations of the proceedings, but did not get the Court’s attention.

The case still has a lot of controversy surrounding the deaths of three police officers. However, the investigating agency has not investigated to contribute to clarifying the problem. How were 3 police officers shot dead? Are their deaths caused by “friendly shots”? There is still much controversy surrounding the deaths of three police officers. However, the investigating agency has not investigated to contribute to clarifying the problem.

Given the facts above, the judgments, and sentences pronounced make observers think of the “People’s Courts” of the Stalin era.

It should also be noted that when the land dispute in Dong Tam reached its climax, the culmination of the villagers in Dong Tam took dozens of police officers hostage on April 16, 2017, Chairman of the Hanoi City People’s Committee Nguyen Duc Chung went directly to Dong Tam to have a dialogue with the people. In a direct conversation on April 22, Mr. Chung handed over a handwritten document, pledging not to prosecute Dong Tam people for criminal liability. The indictment also clearly stated that the plan to attack Dong Tam was introduced by the Hanoi police, the Hanoi People’s Committee approved the policy, the Ministry of Public Security approved. Clearly, the government did not respect the state’s commitment.

The consequences will be unpredictable?

BBC: After this trial, what issues or question the public, people, officials, party members and other interested parties cam ask  and raise?

Mr. Ha Hoang Hop: This is the trial despite public opinion and common sense. All persons of conscience demand justice, the rule of law and fairness.

Mr. Mac Van Trang: After the trial, people’s hearts were dispersed. Many people are pessimistic, sad, and deadlocked. But many people believe that the trial speaks to the nature of the socialist justice system in Vietnam. And that is the basis for the change. The main problem after the first-instance hearing was to re-investigate with sufficient evidence and to conduct crime scene re-enactment of burning three policemen by gasoline. If the scene is not tested, it is impossible to conclude that the villagers poured gasoline into the pit to burn policemen.

One of the banners of Dong Tam people expressed confidence in the Party’s policies and guidelines in accordance with the spirit of old Le Dinh Kinh.

Mr. Bui Kien Thanh: People who are watching will wonder where Vietnam Justice will go? How will Vietnam’s human rights develop? Will people, state officials, and party members remain as “the boat council, share rice and clothes” or become rivals, who have the rights to continue persecuting people? If the situation is not corrected, from individual cases, it will become a conflict between the people and the state, with unpredictable consequences.

BBC: What major psychological, social, legal, political and even foreign relations can this trial create or cause for the government and state of Vietnam?

Mr. Ha Hoang Hop: In my opinion, the verdict announced on the afternoon of September 14, 2020, of the first-instance hearing of Dong Tam left a deep sharing in Vietnamese society, further emphasizing the need for comprehensive social reform.

Mr. Mac Van Trang: I think this trial strongly influenced people’s confidence in the justice system and the regime in general. The international community is also looking at this trial to see what the government is.

Mr. Bui Kien Thanh: Through this trial, people feel that the state and government do not protect justice, legal and civil rights, but only worry about strengthening the power of state organizations, even disguising evidence to accuse innocent people, because they are too pressing, but take actions that the state considers against “reactionary.” Observers of politics and human rights will have more “evidence” to evaluate the “authoritarian” nature of the Vietnamese state, not yet out of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” thinking to build a “state with rule by law.”

BBC: How is this hearing in the picture of the internal political situation of the government, the state and the ruling party today, especially while the Communist Party of Vietnam is aiming to hold its 13th National Congress?

Mr. Ha Hoang Hop: Arbitrary violent repression is the mistake of any government using that arbitrary tool of repression. A nation can only be strong, when there is little or no division internally.

Mr. Mac Van Trang: From the land policy of owned by all people but managed by the state, then interest groups without bluff and led to a bloody, bloody raid in Dong Tam is a serious political mistake by the ruling elite. Clarifying this case, in my opinion, will confuse, affect many personnel of the 13th party congress.

Mr. Bui Kien Thanh: In my opinion, this will be a wake-up call, alarming, awakening the righteous and progressive leaders of the Vietnamese state, having to reflect on ourselves, steadfast stance, and will serve the people and the country. Also at the time, the leaders of the Communist Party of Vietnam assert themselves their pioneering role, reinforce the spirit of “fair will and justice“, eliminate the “pests” and resolutely throw away the “rotten apples” out of the ranks of the Party members, preserving reputation, not letting “a worm make the soup pot uneatable” to the point of being abandoned by the people.

BBC: Finally, through this case, the party and the state should reform or reform anything in terms of policy, law, judicial, rule of law as well as institutional, political?

Mr. Mac Van Trang: I think that the government will definitely have to be more cautious in other cases. But there is no hope that they will change the judiciary while still totalitarian, no power separation between three state branches, and freedom of the press and civil society.

Mr. Ha Hoang Hop: Sooner or later, there must also happen a comprehensive reform of Vietnam, bringing this country to justice, democracy and civilization. This is an affirmation, not advice to the authorities!

Mr. Bui Kien Thanh: The policy of the Communist Party of Vietnam is to build a “Rule of Law of the people, by the people, and for the people.” In my opinion, the necessary steps would have to go to a state of “power separation of three state branches,” that the Legislative branch does not interfere with Executive power, and the judiciary is not “directed” by the other two branches. The country belongs to the people, not a party, and neither party has the right to stay over the Constitution as well as to state agencies. That is the basic principle of a democratic regime, of a “Rule of Law” state. (Translated)

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