A Vietnam court sentenced two brothers to death Monday after a long-running land dispute spiralled into rare violence which left three police officers and a villager dead.
Residents of Dong Tam commune in a Hanoi suburb have for years clashed with authorities, accusing the military of illegally seizing their farmland for an airport.
In January officials attempted to erect a perimeter fence, but were met with villagers armed with “grenades, petrol bombs and knives”, according to the Ministry of Public Security.
The clash left three police officers and an elderly resident, Le Dinh Kinh, dead.
Villagers have a different account of the incident, accusing authorities of attacking Kinh in his sleep. He was believed to be the leader of the farmers’ resistance.
Kinh’s two sons — Le Dinh Chuc, 40, and Le Dinh Cong, 56 — were among dozens arrested in the aftermath of the violence.
The Hanoi court sentenced the brothers “to death for murder” of the three police officers, according to state media.
Twenty-seven others were handed varying sentences, from a 15-month suspended sentence to life in prison.
Defence lawyer Le Luan called the trial “unfair”, and said the defence team had proposed it be postponed pending further investigation into the incident.
“We do not agree with the verdict given by the court today; we don’t even agree with the trial itself,” he told AFP.
Human Rights Watch decried the “heavy sentences” coming after a “rushed” trial, which started last week.
“This trial was plagued by serious procedural concerns that clearly undermined any possibility of fair process,” said HRW’s Phil Robertson.
It is difficult to verify the authorities’ version of events, as the communist country strictly controls all media and information dissemination.
Land disputes are common in Vietnam, where powerful individuals and companies often make claims on property.
Freedom of expression is restricted, as is the right to protest, but flashpoints occur.
In 2017, the Dong Tam villagers held more than a dozen police officers and officials, hostage, for several days at the airport site in a standoff that gripped the tightly-controlled country.