ICJ condemns Vietnam’s court decision to imprison four fish farmers

On 5 April, Vietnam’s Hai Phong court sentenced Doan Van Vuon and three of his male relatives to imprisonment sentences ranging from two to five years, for attempted murder. The ICJ condemns this decision.

Mr. Doan’s wife and sister-in-law received suspended sentences in the form of 18 and 15 months respectively for resisting persons in the performance of their official duties.

Vuon, along with his brothers Doan Van Quy and Doan Van Sinh, as well as Sinh’s son Doan Van Ve, were initially arrested on 5 January 2012 for injuring four policemen and two soldiers with homemade weapons when more than 100 security forces tried to forcibly evict them from their fish farm in a district approximately 90 kilometres from Hanoi.

The four men had remained in detention for more than a year waiting for the commencement of last week’s trial.

Under Article 9(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Vietnam is a signatory to, states that “anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge…and be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release”.

“Pre-trial detention should only be used in criminal proceedings as a last resort, and for the shortest possible time period, when required to meet the needs of justice,” said Emerlynne Gil, ICJ’s International Legal Advisor for Southeast Asia in Bangkok. “The prolonged period of detention in this case is detrimental as it could possibly have violated the defendants’ presumption of innocence and due process.”

During the trial, it was concerning to note that all the judges involved in the case were members of the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party and were carrying out their judicial duties under the central government’s directions.

Article 14 of the ICCPR further guarantees that a person is “entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law”.

“Vietnam’s blatant disregard of the right to fair trial violates not only their international law obligations, but also the proper administration of justice in a criminal proceeding,” said Emerlynne Gil.

The ICJ also observed that the court’s judgment failed to incorporate the fact that the defendants had acted in such a manner only as an attempt to defend and protect their land, which was legitimately given to them by the Vietnamese government in 1993.

The right to receive a reasoned judgment is an inherent principle in safeguarding fair trial rights and it is the general rule that court rulings must include the essential findings, evidence and legal reasoning.

“The failure to adhere to the minimum international fair trial standards reveals Vietnam’s serious lack of commitment towards upholding the rule of law and protecting human rights in the country; a violation most certainly not in line with the profile of a country wishing to obtain a seat at the UN Human Rights Council 2014-2016 tenure,” Gil added.

In the event of an appeal, the ICJ calls that the Vietnamese Court of Appeal be consistent with the international basic judicial guarantees and the principles of independence, impartiality and competency.

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