Defendants in blue shirts at court in Hanoi on Sept. 7. (Photo: Danh Trong)
Activists and lawyers in Vietnam have called on high-ranking officials to suspend the ongoing trial of farmers involved in a deadly land clash with police and asked the National Assembly to supervise the investigation and prosecution.
Some 29 farmers including three Catholics were brought to trial in Hanoi on Sept. 7 for “murdering three security officers and fighting against authorities on duty” on the evening of Jan. 9 at Dong Tam Commune on the outskirts of the capital. They are aged 20-67.
Many police and security officers were deployed to tighten security around the court building while no relatives of the defendants — including Du Thi Thanh, wife of their leader Le Dinh Kinh, who was shot dead in the clash — were allowed to attend the trial, which is expected to last 10 days.
Nguyen Van Mieng, one of 13 lawyers defending the farmers, said some defendants were too weak to walk and were taken to the courtroom by officers.
Mieng and nine other lawyers accused the presiding trial judge Truong Viet Toan and the jury of violating laws by denying lawyers the chance to meet defendants.
He said the jury was shown a 10-minute documentary made by the state-run television station and clips prepared by police showing the defendants confessing their crimes.
Mieng said Bui Viet Hieu, a defendant, rejected a video clip showing his confession. Hieu accused police of using many old pictures from 2017 in the clip. He said he had been forced to repeat what the investigators asked him.
Prominent blogger Pham Doan Trang said Hieu, 77, who was seen as the second most important figure after Kinh, revealed that Kinh and he were shot when police attacked the commune. Kinh, 84, was shot through the heart, while Hieu’s bullet “strayed,” hitting his stomach and resulting in serious injury. Police took him to a hospital, where it was written in his file that the cause of injury was inconclusive.
Trang said some “luckier” defendants were able to speak with their lawyers, revealing that they had been tortured until they could bear no more, and that investigators made them “just plead guilty now and retract it in court later.”
However, in court, those who retracted their confessions were seen as stubborn and dishonest, and their behavior was seen as an aggravating circumstance. The court also rejected defendant accusations of torture with a simple phrase: “No evidence.”
Trang said the trial aims to normalize the police’s murders and silencing of defendants.
On Sept. 7, seven civil society groups and 59 activists, intellectuals, former government officials, pastors and priests petitioned the government to suspend the complicated and serious trial.
They asked the National Assembly to supervise the whole process of investigation and prosecution. A police probe into the case would be unfair as the Public Security Ministry had approved the police attack on the farmers, they said.
They said Hieu is a special witness in the murder case as he saw an officer shoot to kill Kinh from in front of him. Documents say Kinh was shot in his back.
The groups said Hieu should be guarded well and it would be best to transfer him out of police-run prisons.
Their petition was sent to President Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and National Assembly chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan.
The petitioners said police had prevented lawyers from seeing case documents and meeting defendants before the trial. There were many wrongdoings in the process of investigation.
They said the brutal attack on the farmers was well prepared by Hanoi Public Security Department and approved by the city government. They denied police accusations that security forces were deployed to guard a military construction site and the farmers fought against authorities on duty.
They also called on the government to probe Kinh’s killing as his wife had demanded in March.