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War of words over jailed Catholic farmer in Vietnam

Law students trade hostilities with Communist union reporter, Ho Chi Minh City

April 16, 2013

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Three law students have threatened legal action against a Communist Party youth wing in an escalating war of words over the case of a Catholic fish farmer who defended his home from seizure by soldiers and police by firing home-made weapons.

The Communist Youth Union at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Law accused the three of massaging their own egos and of violating party policy after they set up an online petition in support of farmer Doan Van Vuon who was this month sentenced to five years in prison.

On Monday, the law students responded with an ultimatum calling on the Communist Youth Union to remove the article “and publicly apologize to us” within seven days.

Their petition posted on March 31 – two days before a court in the northern city of Haiphong began trying Vuon and his family – has attracted 2,000 signatures along with the ire of the Communist Youth Union.

The party organization said that the students, in the second and third years of university, had a limited understanding of Vietnamese laws since they “gave a poor performance at the university and failed many tests.”

The incident marks the latest controversy in the case of Vuon which has attracted support and sympathy from rights defenders inside Vietnam and overseas.

In 1993, authorities gave Vuon’s family 41 hectares of swampland in a village close to Haiphong after it was badly damaged in a typhoon. He turned it into a thriving fish and shrimp farm.

But in 2009, authorities began to say they wanted the land back without compensation. In a standoff which ended in a violent siege in January last year, 100 police and military officers stormed the farm as Vuon and his family retaliated with home made land mines and firearms.

Vuon's brother was also sentenced to five years and a third sibling was given three and half years in prison, a nephew two years and Vuon’s wife and a second female relative suspended sentences.

The incident is the most high-profile amid a host of land grabbing cases by authorities in recent years as the Vietnamese economy has developed and land has come under increasing demand.

A month after the siege at Vuon's farm, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said that the eviction was illegal, amid promises that the officials responsible would be punished.

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