When justice is wrongly taken
By Son Nguyen in HCMC
When Doan Van Vuon took justice into his own hands, using excessive force to resist coercive measures by well-armed enforcement officers in Hai Phong City’s Tien Lang District to redeem a vast area under fish farming, shock waves immediately rippled through the country. This is the first time the resistance of such severity has taken place with six police and military officers seriously wounded by gun bullets, and two others getting fainted following a blast at the site. As the case unfolds itself, the explosion turns more deafening than physically heard at the time of the happening, as local media points out that the enforcement itself was problematic.
The tragedy emerged last Thursday when hundreds of policemen and military personnel, acting on a decision of Tien Lang District authorities to take back some 50 hectares under fish cultivation in Vinh Quang Commune, approached the house inhabited by Vuon and his family. They were fiercely resisted by the farmers, who later fled the scene and then were arrested days later.
Details of the case, as revealed on local media, shed light on the reason why such a criminal offense has taken place. And the resistance, though unacceptable by all means, has its rational course of developments.
Vuon has devoted his efforts and money in as many years to turn an area prone to natural calamities into a promising farm, an endeavor that has heaped praise from many locals and even former grassroots officials in the commune. When his efforts were about to pay off, authorities in 2007 issued a decision taking back over 100 hectares farmed by 13 families on the ground that the term for land use has expired, according to Nguoi Lao Dong.
Upon the decision, Vuon and a neighbor named Vu Van Luan filed suits at Tien Lang District Court, and lost the case. They continued to challenge the decision by appealing at Hai Phong City Court in 2010. During the proceedings, representatives of Tien Lang District administration entered into reconciliation with the farmers, as shown in a statement from Hai Phong City Court shown on Tuoi Tre, promising that if they backed down from the appeal, district authorities would allow them to continue cultivation on the farms.
The farmers accepted the offer, but authorities later said that the verdict by Tien Lang Court still stood, and they had to hand over the farms.
Vuon was given a decision from Tien Lang District to obey the handover ruling, without compensation and without any promise for him to be entitled to the area later, according to Phap Luat. The newspaper says multiple contacts by its reporter to Tien Lang District officials were rejected. Meanwhile, Le Van Liem, chairman of Vinh Quang Commune and younger brother of district chairman Le Van Hien, made it clear in the newspaper that the farmers had to hand over the land so that authorities would organize a bidding and give it to other people. The district chairman also echoed the point, saying the land will be handed over to others.
While disapproving Vuon’s action, many people show sympathy with the farmer.
Luong Van Trong of the Brackish Water Fish Farms Association of Tien Lang District says the decision by the district government contradicts the law. “Representatives of Tien Lang District have signed letters of reconciliation with the farmers at the witness of Hai Phong City Court, and now they turn treacherous, rejecting the agreement,” Trong is quoted as saying on Phap Luat.
Lawyer Nguyen Hong Bach from Hanoi says on Dan Viet that the settlement by Hai Phong City Court did not correspond to the law, adding that the court should advise the district to cancel its decision to take back the land first. While the criminal action by Vuon and his accomplices must be punished, the legitimate rights of land owners must also be protected, he stresses.
“In this case, Tien Lang District Government and Hai Phong City Court are also partly to blame. It is irregularities on the part of the court and the distrust by district authorities that are reasons behind the farmer’s criminal action,” says the lawyer.
Dang Hung Vo, former deputy minister of natural resources and environment, says in Tuoi Tre that on the part of district authorities, many wrong things happened. The 1993 Land Law, says Vo, stipulates that land is allocated to farmers for a period of 20 years, meaning the area farmed by Vuon’s family cannot be taken back until 2013. Even after this date, the National Assembly has not decided how to handle with the land whose use terms have expired, and Tien Lang was the first district in the country to make such a hasty move in the absence of guidance from central agencies.
“This (incident) rings a big bell of alarm on the thorny reality in building and enforcing regulations on land,” says Sai Gon Tiep Thi. Such gun shots should not have sounded aloud if farmers’ land titles are properly protected by law, which should clarify the ownership right to prevent any wrongful application by authorities harmful to land owners, says the paper.
Police have now pressed charges against six people of Vuon’s family for attempted murders, and the accused will certainly be punished by law. However, as Dang Hung Vo points out in Tuoi Tre, remedying wrong conducts by Tien Lang authorities has become late now, but ‘it is better late than never’ to prevent justice from being taken into the wrong hand.
The Saigon Times Daily