Le Dinh Kinh (second from right) meets with activists at his home in Dong Tam commune before he was reportedly killed by security forces on Jan. 9. (Photo courtesy of Dung Truong)
A Vietnamese-Australian bishop and activist has shown solidarity with those struggling for dignity and justice in land disputes with the government of the communist-ruled nation.
Bishop Vincent Nguyen Van Long of Parramatta, Australia, said conflicts over land rights have broken out again between farmers and authorities in Vietnam and “this time, the results are deadly.”
Thousands of personnel from the police, riot squad and armed forces stormed a commune on the outskirts of capital Hanoi in the early hours of Jan. 9, he said.
“As if moving against a terrorist leader, security forces sealed off the commune of Dong Tam, illuminated the night with flash grenades, and in a hail of bullets burst into the home of 84-year-old Le Dinh Kinh,” he said.
The 59-year-old bishop said Kinh, along with his son and his 3-month-old grandson, were reportedly killed by security forces. He said Kinh “was not a terrorist or fugitive” but “a long-time member of the Communist Party, the patriarch of a respected family and leader of a local protest movement against corruption.”
The commune has effectively been in lockdown, with no independent media being granted access to the area since then.
The issue of land confiscation for economic gain in the Dong Tam area has been an ongoing issue, with unfair and arbitrary land seizures a major problem in the Southeast Asian country.
The prelate said that last year Ho Chi Minh City authorities also violently destroyed the homes and properties of the residents of Loc Hung parish. The victims were mostly low-income families, students, former prisoners of conscience and amputee veterans of the US-backed South Vietnamese Army.
“To this day, they are left homeless, their livelihoods totally ruined and their lives irreparably damaged,” he said, adding that many of them were left at the mercy of the elements and the support of local Redemptorists and fellow parishioners.
The Franciscan bishop said such incidents are proof that the communist regime does not respect the rule of law. Many observers say the situation in Vietnam continues to worsen, with the crackdown on basic human rights and freedoms intensifying.
“I would like to unite myself with the people of Dong Tam [meaning united hearts] and add my support to their struggle for dignity in the midst of the incredible ordeal that has been forced on them,” the head of the Bishops’ Commission for Social Justice – Mission and Service of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference said in his solidarity message to the victims issued on Jan. 20.
He said he prays for justice and equity to prevail in Dong Tam and his country of birth. Bishop Long also urged the authorities “to refrain from acts of violence, terror and repression against the people toward whom they have a duty to protect and assist” and called on the government at all levels to “respect the human rights of its own citizens, to promote the common good and to ensure justice and dignity for the people affected.”
He also asked the Australian government and all people of goodwill, both inside and outside Vietnam, to support the victims of the land seizure in their struggle for justice and dignity.
Police prevent people from supporting Kinh’s family
On Jan. 17, the Public Security Ministry asked domestic and foreign credit agencies to freeze bank accounts allegedly connected to Kinh and his supporters who are accused of using illegal arms and fighting against military personnel in the land clash on Jan. 9.
The ministry said certain individuals and groups fund Kinh and his supporters, who are accused of taking part in acts of terrorism.
The police reportedly froze the bank account of Nguyen Thuy Hanh, a rights activist who said she received funds for Kinh’s funeral held on Jan. 13. Few people attended his funeral, which was surrounded by police.
Hanh said that people donated 528 million dong (US$22,800) within the two days, adding that she will sue the ministry for slander as she received funds for Kinh’s funeral, not for acts of terrorism.
On Jan. 20, she was detained and questioned for hours by police in Hanoi in connection with Kinh’s funeral.
On Jan. 18, activists started a new online fundraising campaign lasting to the end of this month to support Kinh’s family and other victims. They received donations from the US and will pass them on to the victims.
On Jan. 16, Amnesty International said three activists were arrested in relation to social media posts about the dispute in Dong Tam village, while dozens of Facebook users said they had experienced restrictions on their activity.
“The Vietnamese government’s heavy-handed efforts to censor discussion of this land dispute are the latest example of its campaign to assert control over online content,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty’s regional director.
“Social media, particularly Facebook, are increasingly becoming weaponized by Vietnam to go after those who peacefully speak their mind. This is an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression and a clear attempt to stamp out dissent.”