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Vietnam upholds jail term for hero fish farmer

But court reduces sentences for two relatives involved in the standoff

Catherine Barton, Hanoi

July 31, 2013

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A Vietnamese fish farmer who became a folk hero after he used homemade weapons to resist forced eviction lost his appeal against a five-year jail term for attempted murder, a court clerk said on Tuesday. 

Doan Van Vuon and his family became heroes in communist Vietnam when they armed themselves with makeshift shotguns and landmines to hold off local officials trying to remove them from their fish farm.

Seven policemen were injured in the January 2012 standoff at the farm in Tien Lang district, 90 kilometres east of Hanoi. Vuon and three of his male relatives were handed between two and five years in prison at a trial in April.

At the appeal in Hai Phong City, which ended Tuesday, the court upheld Vuon's sentence – and that of his brother – for attempted murder, a court clerk said.

But it reduced sentences for two of Vuon's relatives, the clerk added, declining to give further details.

The court saw “no new details to eliminate the sentences, as proposed by Vuon and [his brother] Doan Van Quy,'' a report on the news site VNExpress said.

“At the trial, the defendants could not show evidence that they were attacked before [they retaliated],'' a prosecutor said, according to the report. 

The two other defendants “were given a reduction for their honesty and regrets” of five and nine months, VNExpress said.

Land is a divisive issue in communist Vietnam. It is wholly owned by the state and rights of use are not always clear or protected.

Millions of rural tenants like Vuon are vulnerable to the whims of local officials, who can reclaim land for vaguely defined “public interest” reasons. Experts say this leads to widespread corruption.

More than 70 percent of all complaints lodged with authorities concern land.

Twenty-year “land use rights certificates” issued nationwide in 1993, as the country introduced market reforms, will expire this year.

The government has not made clear what will happen next. AFP

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