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Vietnamese Farmers Protest Government Land Deals

Brothers Trinh Ba Phuong (L) and Trinh Ba Tu pictured in a cafe the evening before their parents' trial, Hanoi, Nov. 24, 2014. (Marianne Brown for VOA)

Brothers Trinh Ba Phuong (L) and Trinh Ba Tu pictured in a cafe the evening before their parents' trial, Hanoi, Nov. 24, 2014. (Marianne Brown for VOA)

In Vietnam, the state owns the land. The government gives people permission to lease land -- pay for its use for a limited time. As the economy has grown, some Vietnamese have been protesting illegal seizures of land -- also known as “land grabs.” The latest trial of land rights protesters shows problems with the system.

A group of people recently gathered near a court near Hanoi to show their support at the appeal trial of four land rights activists. The four were arrested while protesting a reported land grab earlier this year. The court sentenced the activists to between 12 and 20 months for interfering with public order.

Both parents of 31-year-old Trinh Ba Phuong were on trial. He says he believes that this trial was a “tool for oppression and land grabs.”

He says local officials first announced plans to take control of the land in 2008. The payment offered was too low, and 356 families have refused the money. He says officials did not attempt to negotiate with the residents.

Video recordings are said to show attempts to take the land by force in April. The videos have appeared on social media. Over 150,000 views have been registered on the YouTube website.

In one video, many people wearing unusually shaped hats are seen crossing a field. Men wearing green police uniforms and official red arm bands are running after them.

Trinh Ba Phuong’s younger brother is 25-year-old Tu.

He says many of the farmers now face big economic problems because they have no way of earning their living.

Protests by Vietnamese farmers are not new. In many ways this case shows the continued issue of land rights in the country. It is easy for the state to keep on owning land. In this way, those permitted to use the land do not negotiate directly with developers. Prices are supposed to be set based on market sale value. But this seemingly does not happen in real life.

A report for the National Assembly in 2012 says the number of complaints involving land grabs and compensation was a serious issue. It said these objections made up 70 percent of all complaints to governmental agencies from 2004 to 2011.

Jonathan London is a Vietnam expert at City University Hong Kong. He says the state has not dealt with some of the root causes of the disputes.

“And in the absence of more effective institutional solutions to this problem, these kinds of street level or spontaneous uprisings are likely to persist because the supply of land is not increasing. And when people are displaced or what they claim that they are the victims of injustice that the legal system is not frequently seen as a promising option.”

Jonathan London says the use of video and social media has become a common tool for protesters to make known their objections.

“People in Vietnam are increasingly becoming social movement entrepreneurs. They are trying to call attention to issues...”

He says it is important not to overstate this trend. But still, he says, it represents a skillful attempt by people with comparatively little power. He says the activists have succeeded in bringing influence to bear on those who have power and have yet to respond to their needs.

I’m Caty Weaver.

This report was based on a story from reporter Marianne Brown in Hanoi. Jeri Watson wrote the story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor. _____________________________________________________________

Words in This Story

lease – v. to use something for a period of time in return for payment

residents - n. people who live in a particular place

spontaneous – adj. done or said in a natural and often sudden way without a lot of thought or planning

compensation – n. something that is done or given to make up for damage, trouble, etc.

trend n. a general direction or change

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