A long-running battle over land rights in the northern Vietnam village of Dong Tam flared last week after a raid by thousands of police led to four deaths and the arrests of 30 residents. Three officers were killed along with village leader Le Dinh Kinh, state media reported, while 20 of those arrested face murder charges, punishable by the death sentence in Vietnam . Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security on Wednesday blamed the villagers for the violence and claimed Kinh and his supporters threw grenades and killed officers by dousing them with petrol and setting them alight. In response, Vietnamese police opened fire and made dozens of arrests, the ministry’s statement said. An independent rights group has called for a government inquiry to establish the facts about events in Dong Tam. “It’s 3 a.m now and we still stay up. We’d like to announce to the community that we swear to defend at any costs even our own lives to protect our 59 ha of Dong Senh farmland before the attack of corruption men, the internal invading enemy” - said the old man, one of the leaders pic.twitter.com/UVHtXTyVIB — Anh Chí (@AnhChiVN) January 9, 2020 The dispute relates to the Vietnamese Defence Ministry’s plans to build a wall around a nearby military airport in Mieu Mon, using land villagers claim has been seized. Inspectors working for the Vietnamese government in July 2017 announced land in Dong Tam had always belonged to the military. Photos shared on Twitter by activist Anh Chi showed police trucks entering Dong Tam, 30km southwest of Hanoi, on the morning of January 9. He also posted video of villagers promising to defend their farmland and the village leader. Pham Doan Trang, a journalist, posted on Facebook that last week’s raid was being referred to by some Vietnamese as the “Dong Tam Massacre” and that the Vietnamese government attacked people using tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. During the raid, access roads were blocked, and phone and internet connections were shut down, activists said. “One thing is clear: the Vietnamese government attacked its own citizens,” she wrote. “Government forces raided the village … killing Le Dinh Kinh. A live-stream from land rights activist Trinh Ba Tu … reported that [Kinh] was shot twice in the head, once in the heart, and once in the foot. He was shot in front of his wife.” In April 2017, nearly 40 police officers were held hostage by Dong Tam villagers after police arrived to arrest residents without issuing warrants. New year, new repression: Vietnam imposes draconian ‘China-like’ cybersecurity law “The dispute between local farmers and the Vietnam government regarding land in the Dong Tam area has been an ongoing issue for years,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW). “Unfair and arbitrary land confiscation for economic projects, displacing local people, has been a major problem in the country for the past two decades.” Few details about events in Dong Tam have been made public. The wife of one of the officers killed inadvertently revealed on social media that 3,000 police had entered the village. Her post was soon removed. Separately, Vietnamese authorities in the Mekong Delta arrested a Facebook user for “abusing democratic freedoms” by posting information about Dong Tam, the VnExpress newspaper reported on Monday. However, in an interview with BBC Vietnamese, a women identified as Thanh said police forced her to make statements. “They told me to admit that I was at home holding a grenade,” she was quoted as saying. “I told them I didn’t know what a grenade is, I didn’t know what a petrol bomb is. I couldn’t say it. So they slapped me from side-to-side and then they kicked me in the shins.” Vietnamese authorities are also going after anyone who challenges corruption or wants to improve communities Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International Vietnamese rights group Luật Khoa tạp chí has called for a government inquiry to establish basic facts about events in Dong Tam: the legal grounds for the raid, the number of police, the weapons used by both parties, the reasons for cutting phone and internet connections, and the number of casualties. In 2018, Vietnam adopted a new penal code containing broad powers to prosecute activists and dissidents. In January 2019, a strict cybersecurity law came into effect allowing enhanced surveillance of government critics. According to Amnesty International, the ensuing government crackdown has led to a surge in the number of “prisoners of conscience” in Vietnam. Communist Party’s crackdown on dissent puts another Vietnam activist in jail for 13 years “Beyond crushing any sign of political opposition, the Vietnamese authorities are also going after anyone who challenges corruption or wants to improve communities through human rights work and activism,” Nicholas Bequelin from Amnesty International said in May 2019. “The right to speak one’s mind is at risk.” Vietnam has come under international pressure over its crackdown on dissent. In November 2019, 18 European and Vietnamese NGOs called on the European parliament to postpone a EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement until Vietnam improves its human rights record.