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Sunday, October 23, 2016
Vietnam: further clashes over confiscated church property
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 While the dispute at the Hanoi Apostolic Delegate's Office (reported earlier today on ICN) has not been settled, we have just learnt that another demonstration over Church properties also took place yesterday at Thai Ha parish. Thai Ha is a large parish in Hanoi, run by the Redemptorists. Part of its 60,000 square metres has been occupied by various government bodies. Recently, a sewing factory backed by local authorities has built its workshops on the parish's land. The parishioners held a protest that lasted from early morning till late at night. Police clashed with protesters. This was seen as a message that Vietnam government would not be prepared for any agreements on land disputes that satisfy the legitimate aspiration of Hanoi's Catholics. Background of Thai Ha Land Ownership Dispute Redemptorists arrived in Vietnam in 1925. Since then, they had taken the Good News to many provinces in the North of Vietnam. In 1928, they bought a piece of land of more than six hectares at Thai Ha, Hanoi to build a convent and a church. Mass for the Inauguration of the convent was held on 7th May 1929. The church was inaugurated 6 years later, in 1935. In 1941, there were up to 66 members including 17 priests, 12 brothers, 26 seminarians, and 11 novices living in the convent. The number of the congregation's members kept increasing steadily until 1954, when Vietnam was divided into two distinct states. In 1954, most Redemptorists moved to the South of Vietnam. Fr Joseph Vu Ngoc Bich, Fr Denis Paquette, Fr Thomas Côté, Br Clement Pham Van Dat and Br Marcel Nguyen Tan Van remained in Hanoi. They lived under extremely harsh treatment by the atheist regime, and soon faced brutal persecutions. On 7th May 1955, Br Marcel Nguyen was arrested. Two year later, on 9th July 1959, he died in the communist jail. Fr Denis Paquette faced deportation on 23th October 1958. One year later, Fr Thomas Côté faced the same fate. Less than three years later, on 9th October 1962, Br Clement Pham was jailed. He died later in jail on 7th October 1970 in a rural area of Yen Bai. Since 1962, Fr Joseph Vu had run the parish alone. Despite Fr Joseph Vu's persistent protests, local authorities had managed to nibble bite by bite the parish's land. The original area of 61,455 square meters was reduced to 2,700 square meters as status quo. The communist government converted the convent into Dong Da hospital, and distributed or sold illegally large part of the land to state-owned companies, and government officials. Priests, religious and the laity of Thai Ha parish have repeatedly requested for the return of the land seized by the government. The request of the congregation is based on the facts that: i) The Redemptorists has legal land title of the whole 61,455 square meters. ii) Fr Joseph Vu and his successors did not sign any agreements to offer any part of the land to the government even under coercive conditions. The government occupied all the 58,755 square meters of the 61,455 square meters by force. iii) Article 70, Chapter 5, concerning the Fundamental Rights and Duties of the Citizen, in the 15th April 1992 Vietnam Constitution states that "The citizen shall enjoy freedom of belief and of religion; he can follow any religion or follow none. All religions are equal before the law. The places of worship of all faiths and religions are protected by the law." iv) Directive No. 379/TTg specifies that places of worship borrowed by the authorities must be returned to the churches or their owners when their use is no longer justified. If the use of the land is not for the right purposes, then it must be returned to the churches. If the places of worship are being occupied by people, it is municipal government's task in asking these habitants to leave the properties within specific time. v) Decree No. 26/1999/ND-CP provides that church properties must be kept under the management of the state, and the state should not let these places of worships be transgressed. vi) Ordinance No. 21/2004/PL-UBTVQH11 of June 18, 2004 regarding Religious Belief and Religious Organizations, Article 26 elaborates that the legal property of places of religious belief and of religious organizations is protected by law; any violation of this right is forbidden. Instead of seriously considering the legitimate aspiration of Thai Ha's parishioners, and putting their own laws into practice, the local authorities of Dong Da district, Hanoi bid to take some more land of the parish. Foreseeing the reactions of the parishioners, on 6th January the local authorities immobilized its armed force to back new construction works on the Church land. Since then, ongoing prayer protests have been held by parishioners to request for the suspension of any new construction works on the land in dispute. For more information and pictures about the struggle of Catholics in Vietnam see: J.B. An Dang
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