Vietnam: Catholics face fresh attacks by government

After eviction, parishioners clear land  for new outdoor classroom

After eviction, parishioners clear land for new outdoor classroom

In late September, typhoon Ketsana, tore through Central Vietnam, swallowing homes and crops into its deadly path. Now  the surviving Catholics in the region are facing fresh attacks by local government.

On 19 September the local authorities seized the parish premises at Loan Ly, in Hue Diocese and forced the young catechumens out of their classrooms.

The children continued studying in open-air classes on the land behind the church.  But last Friday, 16 October, Huynh Duc Hai, vice chairman of The People's Committee of the town, ordered hundreds of police to attack a group of parishioners who were cleaning up the ground for the next Sunday catechism classes.

The police, led by captain Nguyen Tien Dung, who had been raoming hte streets in front of the church yelling abuse, finally overwhelmed their unarmed victims, threw them off the property and erected fences and a new board stating the land did not belong to the church of Loan Ly but a Mr Phan Van Tung, a local government official.

To make sure Loan Ly parishioners' call for help could not reach the outside world, all Internet and phone access in the area were cut-off before the invasion, and activities of all priests in the neighboring areas are under heavy surveillance.

The land behind the Loan Ly Church, in fact, was donated to the parish by President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1956. Many believe Loan Ly parishioners are being driven out  because the parish is located on a prize piece of land along the exotic coastline of Central Vietnam ripe for development.

But the church community is struggling to keep alive.

One person said: "Having to deal with so many natural disasters have taught us how to survive under extreme conditions,  so the children don't seem to mind sitting on the sand for their lessons."

In the neighboring diocese of Vinh, the Catholics of Bau Sen have been put on high alert again after the storm. Local government now is back on its plan to remove the Virgin Mary statue placed by parishioners in April last year on a boulder in the parish cemetery across the road from Bau Sen church. On  21 September 2008,  a ruling by the People's Committee of Bo Trach county, Quang Binh province gave the parish five days to remove the statue.

Typhoon Ketsana put a brake on their efforts. But when the storm was over, on 16 October, the government again mobilized heavy equipment and bulldozers to resume their removal task.
An anonymous governmental source from the Fatherland Front has disclosed that the provincial government had approved a budget of 1.2 billion Dong (18,000 Dong = 1 USD) in order to complete the removing process. The budget is considered a sizable amount for a poor province like Quang Binh to spend.

As of now, the fate of the statue, so dear to the hearts and minds of thousands of poor yet devout Catholics in an area ravaged by Ketsana typhoon, remains uncertain, as their contact to the outside has been cut off.

Fr John Nguyen Van Huu, pastor of Bau Sen has publicly pleaded with Catholics all over the world and people of goodwill to help them keep this sacred religious symbol, and most of all, to protect their right to practice religion in such the way the Vietnam constitution has dictated.

Mrs Elaine Pearson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division said: "Vietnam's respect for human rights and religious freedom has sharply deteriorated since the US removed it from its blacklist and Vietnam was accepted into the World Trade Organization...The Vietnamese government should stop treating freedom of religion as a privilege to be granted by the government rather than an inalienable right."


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