08/01/2013, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Vietnam's top court upholds conviction for anti-eviction hero

Court dismisses appeal, upholds five-year sentence imposed on Peter Doan Van Vuon, head of a courageous family. His brother's sentence is also upheld. Two other family members see their sentence reduced. Disputes over land and property keep escalating in Vietnam.

Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Vietnam's highest Court rejected a petition by lawyers on behalf of Peter Doan Van Vuon, a fish farmer and head of a courageous family involved in a fight against forced seizure by the Vietnamese government.

In April, a lower court had sentenced Doan to a five-year sentence for "attempted murder" for opening fire and throwing homemade bombs at government officials who were trying to evict him from his property and land. His use of force was not meant to harm the officials.

Since then, human rights groups and local Catholic Church officials have campaigned for his release.

Disputes over land use are commonplace in Communist Vietnam, where the land is state-owned and individual rights are not recognised, let alone protected. More than 70 per cent of all complaints lodged with authorities concern land.

The case of Doan Van Vuon and his courageous family has been closely followed both at home and abroad with appeals and efforts made to secure his release.

At the end of the two-day hearing on Tuesday, the People's Supreme Court of Vietnam said it rejected the appeal by Doan Van Vuon, a 50-year-old army veteran, upholding the five-year sentence.

The court also upheld a five-year sentence imposed on Doan Van Quy, one of the main offender's brothers, who was also on trial for attempted murder and resisting a public officer.

By contrast, the Court reduced the sentence for two other members of the family, to terms ranging from five to 19 months.

The legal saga starring Doan Van Vuon and his family is but the latest episode in a long series of confrontations between authorities and ordinary people as well as between the government and the Catholic Church, over land, real estate and business activities.

In this case, the controversy revolved around some 40 hectares of land grant Peter got in 1993 from the government. Over the years, thanks to his work, he turned what was originally marshland and swamps into a fish farm.

In 2009, when the business began to turn a profit, the authorities demanded the return of the property. After a long legal battle, the government issued an ultimatum on 24 November 2011, telling the family to vacate farm and business.

Instead of giving in, Peter and his family put up a fight. When officials came to enforce the government's decision on 5 January 2012, they were greeted with bullets and grenades, made not to kill but to deny the invaders access to the property.

No one was killed or wounded during the standoff, but in the end, the police were able to break in and arrest the family with its members eventually put on trial for attempted murder.

Such a strong willingness to defend one's rights has been met with support from Catholics and non-Catholics, amazed by Doan Vuon's determination to protect his family's life work.

Recently, Mgr Paul Nguyen Thai Hop, who heads the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church, and Joseph Vu Van Thien, bishop of Hai Phong, started a petition to get the accused acquitted.

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