September 20, 2016 / 7:22 AM / 2 years ago

Vietnam jails land activist a second time for 'public disorder'

HANOI (Reuters) - A court in Vietnam sentenced a land rights activist to 20 months in jail on Tuesday for causing public disorder, her lawyer said, jailing her for a second time over a similar offense in a case a top human rights group said should have been dropped.

Can Thi Theu, a farmer and land protection activist (C) is escorted by policemen at a court in Hanoi, Vietnam September 20, 2016. Mandatory credit VNA/Doan Tan/via REUTERS

Can Thi Theu, 54, was found guilty at a half-day trial by a district court in Hanoi, three months after she was arrested for leading protests outside government offices against what she called illegal land seizures.

Farmers from Duong Noi village sit in front of a shopping mall outside a court while they protest during a trial of Can Thi Theu, a farmer and land protection activist in Hanoi, Vietnam September 20, 2016. The placards read "Can Thi Theu is innocent", "Justice for innocent Can Thi Theu" and "make arrest - grabbing land is criminal". REUTERS/Nguyen Tien Thinh

“This is a very unfair and tragic verdict,” said Vo An Don, one of her lawyers, adding that she would appeal.

As the court heard the case, dozens of supporters held signs outside saying “Can Thi Theu is innocent” before police shepherded them away to a waiting bus.

In recent years, a real estate market boom in Vietnam has stirred up protests by small landowners evicted to make way for construction projects. Many complain the evictions are illegal and authorities fail to pay adequate compensation.

Farmers from Duong Noi village protest outside a court during a trial of Can Thi Theu, a farmer and land protection activist in Hanoi, Vietnam September 20, 2016. The placards read "Can Thi Theu is innocent", "Freedon for Can Thi Theu" and "make arrest - grabbing land is criminal". REUTERS/Nguyen Tien Thinh

The sentence comes at a time when Vietnam’s human rights record is in the spotlight, with the jailing and intimidation of activists, bloggers and dissidents showing no sign of abating, despite the country’s aggressive pursuit of closer economic and diplomatic ties with the West, most notably the United States and European Union.

Theu was detained on June 10 for causing public disorder. A newspaper run by the Hanoi police said she led people to gather at state offices in the capital many times, raising banners and causing traffic jams.

Theu was freed in July 2015 after serving a 15-month term on charge of opposing officials on duty. Upon her release, she posted a video on YouTube in which she said she had been jailed for protesting against land seizures. The New York-based Human Rights said she was caught filming evictions.

The group called on the Vietnamese authorities to drop all charges against Theu and pursue proper legal reforms “instead of punishing people who protest the loss of their land”.

Editing by Martin Petty

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