Vietnam 'hero' fish farmer jailed for five years

A Vietnamese farmer who became a folk hero after using homemade weapons to resist eviction was handed an unexpectedly lenient sentence of five years Friday for attempted murder.

Doan Van Vuon and his family rose to prominence after arming themselves with makeshift shotguns to hold off local officials trying to remove them from their fish farm in Tien Lang district, 90 kilometres (55 miles) east of Hanoi.

The January 2012 incident, in which seven policemen were injured, quickly became a symbol of rising public dissatisfaction over land rights.

"The defendants disrespected the law and endangered people's lives," court president Pham Duc Tuyen said.

Three of Vuon's male relatives were sentenced to between two and five years in prison on the same charge of attempted murder.

Government prosecutors took into account public opinion towards the case, which involved the "sensitive and complicated matter of the land law" Tuyen said.

Land is a divisive issue in communist Vietnam. It is wholly 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.

The Vuon family's rare act of defiance in the tightly-controlled communist state 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.

Tuyen said that the Vuon eviction was "not in accordance with the law" and that the light sentences demonstrated "the state's lenient and humanitarian policy, contributing to stabilising the political situation in the area".

Vuon's wife and sister-in-law received suspended sentences of 15 and 18 months on the lesser charge of resisting public officials on duty.

Vuon's lawyer told reporters after the trial that he was "very unhappy" and had hoped for lighter sentences.