Vietnam: court upholds verdicts against Catholic protesters

 The Ha Noi city court has upheld suspended prison sentences a lower court gave to Catholic defendants charged with causing social disturbance and damaging public property during a protest over confiscated church property.

The People's Court of Ha Noi City upheld the Dong Da District Court verdicts on the eight defendants, who were among hundreds of Catholics who occupied a plot of former Church land last August. The government had confiscated the land, near the Redemptorist-run Thai Ha church, in the early 1960s.

After finding the eight guilty on 8 December, the district court handed seven of them suspended prison sentences ranging from 12 to 17 months, and let the other off with a warning. The defendants appealed to the city court.

Redemptorist Father Pierre Nguyen Van Khai, one of four Redemptorist priests allowed to attend the five-hour appeals hearing on March 27, told Catholics the eight defendants protested the earlier verdict as unjust.

One of them, Nguyen Dac Hung, 32, told UCA News he was happy to witness to truth and did not care about the verdict.
A Church source said the defendants now plan to appeal to the higher Central Court.

Thousands of well-wishers clapped and welcomed the defendants and two of their Catholic lawyers after they left the Ha Noi court. They shouted phrases such as "justice for Thai Ha!" and "Innocent!," and gave the defendants flowers as they marched to the nearby Ha Dong Church for a thanksgiving Mass.

Redemptorist priests and priests from Ha Noi archdiocese concelebrated the Mass.

Father Khai told that congregation that injustice still exists, so they should continue to witness to justice and truth by praying for the authorities, loving people and doing charitable work.

Prior to the court hearing, 1,000 Catholics attending early morning Mass and accompanied the eight defendants in procession for about seven kilometers through the streets from the Thai Ha church to the Ha Noi court.

Led by five Redemptorist priests, the defendants and supporters carried cycad leaves -- a traditional symbol of martyrdom -- along with crosses and images of Mary, Queen of Peace, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help. They also carried placards that read "Justice -- Peace -- Truth," "We are innocent," "We love you" and "Witness to the truth." The four women defendants wore red ao dai, traditional Vietnamese attire.

About 1,500 public security officials had erected iron barricades on streets to prevent people from coming near the court. Catholics reported that many plainclothes police officers who took videos and photos of the crowd also carried Marian images.

While the trial was in progress, thousands of supporters recited the rosary, sang hymns and prayed for the defendants. Many ate lunch they had brought with them at a public garden near the court house, while some ate bread and drank bottled water that others provided them.
On the night before the trial, about 3,000 Catholics attended a Mass at the Thai Ha church and prayed in front of the Marian statue in the compound.

Source: UCAN/vtran

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