Vietnam eviction victims denied free speech

Authorities block news conference to recount plight of 100 households who lost their land in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam eviction victims denied free speech

Lawyers and eviction victims stand in front of the Department of Information and Communication in Ho Chi Minh City. Their plan to hold a press conference on March 13 was rejected by the department four hours before it was due to take place. (Photo by Vu Hai Tran) reporter, Ho Chi Minh City
March 14, 2019
Eviction victims in southern Vietnam and their lawyers have accused local government officials of depriving them of their freedom of expression by refusing to let them hold a press conference.

Four representatives of more than 100 households, who claim their land was illegally grabbed in January by Ho Chi Minh City authorities, informed the city’s Department of Information and Communication that they would be holding a news conference on their seized land on March 13.

They said four lawyers would present formal evidence that households had owned and cultivated a five-hectare piece of land called Loc Hung Garden for 65 years and that local authorities had disregarded their petitions and complaints.

They also planned to give evidence of illegal destruction of their properties by officials from Ward 6 of Tan Binh district.

Four hours before the conference was due to begin at 2.30 p.m., the department told them that it “disapproves of the conference at the four individuals’ request.” It said the conference’s contents “are not suitable, do not represent local people and do not reflect real conditions in the locality.”

Many eviction victims accused authorities of acting outside the law to deprive them of their freedom of expression stipulated by laws.

They said the press conference aimed to relate their suffering and losses caused by the illegal destruction of their properties while calling on authorities to talk with them about the dispute.

When they arranged the conference at a family’s house, many men in plainclothes surrounded and watched the venue. A previous plan to hold the conference at a restaurant failed when the restaurant owner returned a deposit and refused to host the event. They alleged that the restaurant owner might have been forced to do so.

Lawyer Dang Dinh Manh said local authorities use all media to defend their unlawful acts of demolishing and grabbing people’s properties.

“Now they prevent the freedom of speech of citizens. Clearly, the right to free expression is for the government, not for the people,” Manh said.

A group of lawyers who offer legal support to the victims said in a March 13 statement that their clients “will continue to petition the Department of Information and Communication to create conditions for them to hold a press conference by law.”

They also called on Nguyen Thien Nhan, the city’s Communist Party chief, to meet and listen to the people to deal with the dispute properly.

Earlier this month, Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop of Ha Tinh, head of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, asked lawyers and land dispute victims to work together to seek justice.

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