A Vietnamese fish farmer who fought off an eviction squad with homemade guns and mines has been given a hero’s welcome home after being freed from jail early.
Doan Van Vuon’s early release from a five-year sentence came Monday, two days before Vietnam marks its 70th National Day with a large military parade and mass amnesty for over 18,000 prisoners.
Videos posted to social media show neighbors and relatives bursting into applause and cheers as the farmer-turned-cult hero returned with a big smile to the land where he had fought a pitched battle with security forces in the northern city of Hai Phong.
Vuon said he was touched by the overwhelming support from the public and was happy to be a free man.
“I am over the moon, and I feel like a bird that can fly high in open space, and a fish that can swim in open sea without any constraint,” he said.
Vuon and some members of his family were given prison terms of two to five years in 2013 on charges of attempted murder for fighting against an armed state eviction team.
But the farmer and his relatives were lauded online by many Vietnamese as heroes for defending their land at all cost.
Vuon told VOA’s Vietnamese service that he had no choice but to oppose the squad that he claimed was “illegal.”
“We tried to make a compromise, but they [local authorities] broke the laws, tried to impose their will on us and pushed us into an end road without leaving us any choice," he said. "Hence, we had to resist the illegal eviction.”
Seven police and soldiers were wounded in the January 2012 incident.
Public sympathy toward Vuon’s family forced Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to order the local officials who carried out the land clearance to be punished.
Five local officials were convicted in connection with the incident of failing to properly conduct official duties. One official was given a sentence of 2½ years in prison, while the other four were given suspended sentences of 15 to 24 months.
Defense attorney Tran Vu Hai said many farmers extended their warm welcome-back gestures to Vuon to show their gratitude for his effort to retain the fish farming land that many families rely on.
Vuon’s case put a spotlight on land grabs, a major source of public discontent in Vietnam, where the government owns all the land and usage rights are often unclear. Development deals have forced tens of thousands from their homes and businesses in recent years.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.