Fifteen US Members of Congress Speak Out on Unjust Dong Tam Trial

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Fifteen members of the United States Congress signed onto a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the unjust Dong Tam trial proceedings that happened in Vietnam in September 2020.

At the end of a trial lasting from September 7 to 14, 2020 in Vietnam, some of the 29 citizens of Dong Tam received very heavy sentences: 2 death sentences, one life sentence, and long prison terms. These sentences are all the more unbearable as the trial was very far from international standards in terms of respect for the rights of the defense.

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October 14, 2020

The Honorable Mike Pompeo
Secretary
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Pompeo,

We write to express our deep concerns with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s violent response to the Dong Tam village land dispute and the recent decision by the court in that country to sentence 2 individuals to death, 1 life imprisonment, and 26 individuals to serving time in jail ranging from 15 years to 15 months of suspended sentence. We request the Department of State to address our concerns with the Vietnamese government at your earliest opportunity and to provide Congress with an update on the situation.

In 1980, the Vietnamese constitution abolished the right to private land ownership in Vietnam, but the 1993 Land Law granted farmers 20-years rights on land used for agriculture purposes. These land disputes are common and often violent when the Vietnamese government confiscate lands under the guise of public interests, and there is a long history of protest and resistance by the Vietnamese people toward what they often see as corruption. In 2013, many of the acquired land were used for the construction of golf courses and other non-essential projects.

In 2017, the Vietnamese government began to confiscate land in the Dong Tam commune in Hanoi. In January 2020, more than 3,000 police officers raided the Dong Tam village. During the clash between officers and villagers, police shot and killed Mr. Le Dinh Kinh, who was the leader of the villagers resisting the government land grab. In addition, three policemen were also killed as a result of the confrontation.

Mr. Kinh, who was 84, died defending his village. Prior to his death, Mr. Kinh had no criminal record and spent his retired years defending the interests of the Dong Tam villagers and farmers. Though the officers’ deaths were quickly investigated, Mr. Kinh’s death was not. In fact, over a dozen Dong Tam villagers were arrested and charged with murder for the deaths of the three officers, who fell into a concrete shaft while running between houses during the raid.

In September 2020, a court sentenced Mr. Kinh’s sons, Le Dinh Chuc and Le Dinh Cong, to death. This effectively terminates Mr. Kinh’s family linage and it is inhuman. Other defendants received sentences ranging from 15 months of probation to 16 years and even a life sentence.

Unfortunately, the presiding judge rejected requests from the defense to summon witnesses. The defense counsel also protested to the court that the time allotted to them in court to make their case had been significantly shortened. Much like other land dispute cases in Vietnam, this incident and the resulting rushed trials are saturated with corruption and injustice.

Attached to this letter is a report on this case written and translated by Will Nguyen and Pham Doan Trang. Will Nguyen is an American citizen who was arrested and unjustly prosecuted for taking part in a protest in Vietnam. After months of advocacy by congressional members, Will was released and sent back to the United States. Pham Doan Trang is a human rights and pro-democracy activist and journalist. For her role in reporting on the Dong Tam case, she was recently arrested hours after the US-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue on October 6, 2020.

Vietnam is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and has committed to respecting individual freedom of belief, speech, association, press, and the right to uphold assembly and political expression. The government of Vietnam has also claimed to uphold the rule of law, due process, and protecting the rights of its citizens. This shame trial and the inhuman sentences proved to the contrary.

We request that you urge the government of Vietnam to investigate the death of Mr. Le Dinh Kinh. Further, we urge you to include the case of the Dong Tam village during bilateral meetings with Vietnamese government officials to express the commitment of the United States to fundamental human rights, due process, rule of law, and political expression. We would also welcome a briefing from the State Department on its perspectives on the case and its response to the situation.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Alan Lowenthal
Harley Rouda
J. Luis Correa
Christopher H. Smith
Zoe Lofgren
Barbara Lee
Ro Khanna
Gerald E. Connolly
Scott Peters
Susan A. Davis
James P. McGovern
Juan Vargas
Tom Malinowski
Gilbert R. Cisneros Jr.
Al Green

Members of the United States Congress

You can view a PDF version of the letter here.

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