Brawls Broken Out and Arrests Made: The Loc Hung Vegetable Garden Crisis Worsens

A picture of a brawl when the public security forces tried to arrest several members of VRLH. Source: Facebook Vuon Rau Loc Hung

On the morning of Sunday, December 8, 2019, a group of local public security officers arrived at the area of the Loc Hung vegetable garden and became involved in a hostile confrontation with local residents of Loc Hung, which is a Catholic residential neighborhood situated in the middle of Ho Chi Minh city. The authorities’ intention was to prevent, or apparently, to destroy the construction of a small cave that displays the nativity of Jesus Christ, a common Christian custom. After high-profile forced evictions in early 2019 left hundreds of Loc Hung residents– many of them political activists– homeless with neither compensation for the lost land nor the benefit of a resettlement program, the representation of the nativity of Jesus Christ at the destroyed area is just a symbol for hope and optimism in the community when Christmas is just around the corner. 

The confrontation on Sunday quickly turned violent. The authorities forcefully took scaffolds, destroyed the wooden structure, and injured many residents. The conflict ended around 4:00 pm on the same day, but three residents– Cao Thi Thu, Pham Trung Hieu, and Pham Duy Quang– were arrested and detained for over six hours by the public security of Ward 6, Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City. 

The builder’s scaffolds were taken away. Source  Facebook Vuon Rau Loc Hung

Worried for their safety and well-being, many residents gathered and marched to the office of the public security of Ward 6 to request the three’s release. Thanks to the public pressure, Ms. Thu, Mr. Hieu, and Mr. Quang were all freed later that evening. 

This is not the first time the Loc Hung residents and the local authorities have clashed.  On the morning of December 3, 2019, the authorities of Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh city deployed hundreds of people to the garden to hang a map of a “development plan” for the area, which then prompted a quick response from the residents, who had lost their houses and properties in the area. Many went to observe and record the process. In the afternoon, a government loudspeaker was turned on during school hours and broadcasted inaccurate information, such as saying that “the authority has provided adequate compensation for the residents,” “the residents have met and agreed on the displacement and compensation plan with the authority,” and “the area is public land,” etc. The residents, hence, participated in a small-scale demonstration to protest against the inappropriate propaganda.

Loc Hung protest on December 3, Source: Facebook Vuon Rau Loc Hung

It is difficult for observers to predict what will happen next in the crisis. However, it is clear that if the authorities keep ignoring legitimate requests of the residents, and if the national agencies remain inactive, escalation is inevitable. It is important that the international community continues to monitor the situation in Loc Hung so that the grievances of the residents will not be forgotten over time. Land conflicts that have been happening everywhere in the country for decades will only be able to resolved through institutional changes, including: land reform, rule of law reform, and fair political participation processes — all the much needed, yet sensitive, reform areas that the current regime is unwilling to accommodate. 

© 2019 The 88 Project