Mother, son in Vietnam get eight years jail term over land rights activism


A Vietnamese mother and son were sentenced on Wednesday to eight years in prison each by a court in northern Vietnam for posting online articles and videos criticising the government for its handling of a deadly land-rights clash last year.

Land-rights activist Can Thi Theu and her son Trinh Ba Tu worked to raise awareness of the socially and politically explosive issue of land grabs in the country of 95 million people.

The eight-year sentence for the pair will be followed by three years each on probation, the court’s judgment said.

A well-known activist in Hanoi, Theu was arrested on June 24, 2020 with her sons Trinh Ba Tu and Trinh Ba Phuong on charges of “creating, storing, and disseminating information, documents, items and publications opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”.

The three family members had been outspoken in social media postings about the Jan. 9, 2020 clash in Dong Tam commune in which 3,000 police stormed barricaded protesters’ homes at a construction site about 25 miles south of the capital, killing a village elder.

They had also offered information to foreign embassies and other international groups to try to raise awareness of the incident.

Three police officers also died in the clash.

Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service after the trial, defence attorney Dang Dinh Manh said that the sentences of eight years in prison and three years’ probation were within the range of outcomes expected by the defendants and their lawyers.

“Both the mother and the son were well prepared for the trial,” Manh said, adding, “They were calm, strong, and steadfast. I’ve been involved in many political cases, but I’ve never seen anyone like them before.”

Theu’s daughter Trinh Thi Thao and daughter-in-law Do Thi Thu were allowed into court for the trial, but Theu’s husband Trinh Ba Khiem, who arrived without identification, was not permitted to attend.

Following the trial, Thao and Manh posted accounts of Theu and her son’s statements in court, where both declared they had been the victims of forced evictions ordered by Vietnamese authorities, who they said fail to represent the country’s people.

Responding to questions about their posting of livestream videos, both mother and son said they had published the videos to tell the world about land grabs in Vietnam and to call attention to what they called the “wrongdoings and crimes” committed by government officials.

In a May 5 statement, rights group Amnesty International condemned the sentences handed down to Can Thi Theu—who had been jailed twice before in 2014 and 2016 for protesting government-ordered seizures of land—and her son, calling their conviction “a travesty of justice.”

“Can Thi Theu and her son, Trinh Ba Tu, are brave human rights defenders who should be protected by the Vietnamese government, not harassed and locked away,” said Emmerlynne Gil, Amnesty’s Deputy Regional Director for Research.

“The authorities in Viet Nam should overturn this unjust conviction without delay and immediately and unconditionally release Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu. They were convicted solely for peacefully exercising their human rights.”

While all land in Vietnam is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint as residents accuse the government of pushing small landholders aside in favour of lucrative real estate projects, and of paying too little in compensation to farming families displaced by development. (Source: RFA)