VNTB - Dang Van Hien Case: Public Opinion Strongly Disagrees

Kate Chesterson translation  (VNTB) After a 2-day trial at the Lower Court of Dak Nong province, defendant Dang Van Hien, aged 47, resident...

Kate Chesterson translation (VNTB) After a 2-day trial at the Lower Court of Dak Nong province, defendant Dang Van Hien, aged 47, resident at Tuy Duc Commune, Quang Truc District, Dak Nong, was pronounced death sentence on 3rd January, 2018, on charge of opening fire while opposing a land seizure and protecting his family, leaving three dead. However, the court ruling is considered far too harsh by widely spread public opinion.

Dak Nong province recently captured public attention and mass media on 2nd and 3rd January, 2018 during the trial of a homicide case that triggered a public outcry in 2016. There would be no comment if this were a murder due to individual hatred. In fact, this was a shoot-out in an attempt to fight a land grab and protect family members’ lives and the neighborhood.

According to Vietnamtimes’ inquiry, the case began in 2008 when Dak Nong province leased more than 1,000 hectares of forest land at the ‘1535 zone’ to Long Son Company to implement an agro-forestry project. Within the leased area, however, lies the disputed land of the households of Dang Van Hien, Ninh Viet Binh, and Ha Van Truong who had been planting cashew and coffee trees in there for a long time.

Mr.Dang Van Hien at the Lower Court . Photo: Minh Quy/Zingnews
The dispute has grown tense for several years. Long Son Co. has many times used bulldozers to cause havoc for the households’ farms, and under the company’s name, even well-equipped thugs were mobilized to beat the locals, who have miserably lodged their complaints from local authorities in Dak Nong province to central agencies, but they were always back to square one. Meanwhile, Long Son company personnel kept playing havoc relentlessly on the disputed land.

On 23rd October, 2016 Vice director of Long Son Co., Nghiem Xuan Thien Suu, together with more than 30 staff members, carried machines and weapons to damage and clear Hien’s cashew and coffee farm and two other households’. They aggressively surrounded the area, throwing stones and even threatening to kill the people concerned.

To protect his property and family members, Hien used a self-made rifle, opening fire in the sky to prevent the act of throwing stones. However, Long Son personnel did not stop their rowdy behaviors; Hien ran back into his house while kept on firing at these people. During this moment, Truong was also on the scene, helping Hien with some ammunition. On hearing that Long Son staff were grabbing land and damaging property, Binh ran from his home to Hien’s to support him. As a result, the shoot-out left three people dead and thirteen injured. Hien and Truong at once fled to Binh Phuoc province.

In Binh Phuoc, Hien asked Dien to call a telephone operator to mislead the authorities concerned. Because of this, Dien committed an offense of hiding wrongdoing. Hien and Truong, after a few days at large, had given themselves up.

After a 2-day trial, the provincial Lower Court pronounced:
- Dang Van Hien: death sentence for homicide.
- Ninh Viet Binh: 20 years in prison for homicide.
- Ha van Truong: 12 years in prison for homicide.
- Doan Van Dien: 9 months in prison for criminal hiding.
- Nghiem Xuan Thien Suu: 6 years in prison for property damaging.
- Pham Cong Thien: 4 years in prison for property damaging.

The court ruling immediately sparked a strong disagreement from those who attended the trial and a public outcry via social media. All share an opinion that it was far too harsh a sentence for defendant Dang Van Hien.

Huynh, a local living in Tuy Duc Commune, expressed his personal opinion with Vietnamtimes:

“In my opinion, Hien committed the crime because he was cornered right on his farm. As far as I know, Hien’s farmland is not included inside the area belonging to Long Son Co. project, according to what I’ve heard from a person who previously worked for the Department of Resources and Environment of Dak Nong province. On measuring the area to transfer its land use right to Long Son Co., he had noticed that the cashew trees on the farm had grown considerably and the farm lay outside of the project land. So, I think that the death sentence for Mr.Hien is inappropriate. 

Furthermore, Hien had given himself up and he committed the crime while being overly excited and, at the same time, his wife and children were being threatened, too. Alone, he had to fight more than 30 people….. Had I been in his shoes, I would have done the same thing.”

Huynh did not attend the trial the second day, but on the first, he observed the three defendants who were later sentenced to death. He said:

“All defendants, especially the three main ones, remained calm, unfaltering. I can tell by the look on their faces that they wanted to send a message to everybody: they did not deliberately want to commit such a crime. They did what they did just because they were cornered.”

It is leadership weakness to render a society lawless; violence has become an unavoidable behavior in a society where acts of thugs are highly ‘appreciated’. Hien,Truong, Binh and many other households in Tuy Duc Commune have been treated badly for so long a long time that now ‘the worm turns’ and the result is “Who on earth can let me live a life of a good person?”


VNTB 8644173019533045973

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