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Trial of Vietnam fish farmer turned folk hero begins

world Updated: Apr 02, 2013 15:55 IST

The trial of a Vietnamese fish farmer who became a folk hero after using homemade shotguns to resist eviction began on Tuesday, with scores of people defying a heavy police presence to show their support.

Hundreds of police shut down the roads by the Hai Phong People's Court to hold back supporters of Doan Van Vuon, who rose to prominence by leading his family's resistance against the authorities in a nation where land rights are a flashpoint issue.

Six policeman were injured in January 2012 when the Vuon family armed themselves with homemade shotguns as local officials tried to forcibly evict them from their fish farm in Tien Lang district, around 90 kilometres (55 miles) east of Hanoi.

Vuon and three other male relatives, who have been in detention since the incident, went on trial early Tuesday for attempted murder. Vuon's wife and sister-in-law are being tried on a charge of resisting on duty officers, in a hearing expected to last until Friday.

The Vuon family's rare act of defiance triggered a nationwide outpouring of support with even Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung saying the eviction was "illegal" and promising to prosecute corrupt local officials.

Five former local officials in the area will be tried next Monday over the destruction of Vuon's house.

"We have come here peacefully to show our support for the Vuon family," said well-known pro-democracy campaigner Pham Hong Son, who has spent years in jail for his activism. Vuon will be given a harsh sentence to "create fear", he told AFP, adding that there were "many other people facing illegal eviction, injustice".

"If the government gives a lenient sentence it may urge other people to react more strongly," he said.

Police on the outskirts of Hai Phong prevented bus loads of pro-democracy activists and Catholic supporters - the Vuon family is Catholic - from entering the northern port city, AFP reporters saw.

Land is a divisive issue in communist Vietnam, where it is all owned by the state and rights of use are not always clear or protected.

Millions of rural tenants like Vuon are vulnerable to the whims of local officials, who can reclaim land for vaguely-defined "public interest" reasons, which experts say leads to widespread local corruption.

More than 70 percent of all complaints lodged with authorities nationwide concern land.