Vietnam: The fate of the city of Đồng Tâm – and two resulting death sentences

Although Vietnam is one of the countries that regularly both impose and carry out the death penalty, it is very difficult to obtain information about it, as the government classifies this issue as a state secret.

What is known is that the prisoners sentenced to death have to live on death row in inhumane, cruel conditions and do not know their execution date in advance, so that they wake up every morning with the fear that this day could be their last.

The two brothers Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc, residents of Dong Tam village, were sentenced to death because they were accused of causing the death of three policemen during a violent land conflict.

What happened in Đồng Tâm?

In the early hours of January 9, 2020, around 3,000 police officers entered Đồng Tâm to carry out a violent land confiscation. The government was planning to build a military airport there. But the residents of Đồng Tâm resisted. In the course of this conflict, not only three police officers were killed, but also the 84-year-old community leader Le Kinh Dinh.

Le Kinh Dinh was a member of the Communist Party and a retired commune official. In recent years, however, he had become an opponent of the government due to the constant conflicts over land expropriation.

Villagers reported that the police, armed with sticks, clubs and guns, stormed the village and beat the villagers. They did not even stop at women or elderly people. The government, in turn, claimed that the workers who were supposed to build the wall around the planned airport were attacked by the villagers with hand grenades, petrol bombs and knives.

Uncertainties in the investigation

The exact circumstances of the policemen’s deaths have never been clarified. According to the Ministry of Security, the three policemen died after being set on fire by the villagers. Mr. Kinh was found dead in a house with a grenade in his hand.

His family vehemently denies this. They say that a widely circulated video of his body shows clear bullet wounds.

A few days after this event, three members of the Kinh family appeared on television with battered faces and admitted to possessing homemade weapons and petrol bombs. According to human rights groups, however, these were forced confessions.

The two sons of the village chief, Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc, were sentenced to death for murder. Among other things, they were accused of organizing resistance against the police. In addition to them, 26 other villagers were sentenced to prison terms, some of them for many years.

Doubts about the rule of law

According to the victims, all of the confessions presented at the trial were extracted under torture. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch described the trials as not being in accordance with the rule of law.

The detainees were not allowed to see their families or lawyers during their pre-trial detention. Witnesses for the defense were not heard. The organizations accuse the government of wanting to set an example in order to nip future resistance from villagers or farmers in the bud.

A tradition of land disputes in Vietnam

Land disputes have a long tradition in Vietnam and occur frequently. Since the right to private land ownership was abolished in 1980, all land has been owned by the communist state. The government can therefore use all land for military or civilian purposes.

But the locals, who have farmed this land for generations, consider it their property. The Vietnamese government granted the population land use rights similar to property rights, but reserved the right to acquire land for public interest purposes.

Not the first conflict in Đồng Tâm

The conflict in Đồng Tâm is not the first. Back in 2017, the villagers took a stand against the expropriation of their land without compensation. After the police arrested several farmers, the villagers held 38 police officers captive for over a week. They were only released after the government made some concessions.

After the death sentences of Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc were confirmed in an appeal in 2021, the brothers are still awaiting execution.

Karin Rück
German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

Since the World Congress against the Death Penalty in Berlin in November 2022, the German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has been on friendly terms with the Federal Association of Vietnamese Refugees in the Federal Republic of Germany, which provides us with information on the death penalty in Vietnam.