VietCatholic News (26 Jul 2009 13:29)
In unprecedented event after the communist takeover of Vietnam, half million Vietnamese Catholics joined in huge protests demanding the justice for victims who were assaulted brutally by police in central costal province of Vinh as they were trying to rebuild their worship place.
Police in provinces of Nghe An, Ha Tinh, and Quang Binh had been put on high alert in the wake of huge protests joined by half million Catholics. At 7 am local time on Sunday morning, 170 priests and 420 women religious led 500,000 Catholics of Vinh Diocese and neighboring dioceses in peaceful protests being held throughout 19 deaneries. The event is reportedly observed as the most crowded religious protest in Vietnam history.
Across the entrance of the Bishop’s Office and on the façade of every church in the diocese hung big banners which stated the reasons why people were protesting, a testimonial evidence of severe conflict between the increasingly dictatorial regime and a normally peace loving, law abiding citizens and Catholics. The banners asserted Catholics had no choice but holding these protest as it was the only way the world could hear their indignant voice on police's brutality and the injustice that parishioners of Tam Toa have been suffering almost since the beginning of communism in Vietnam.
In more details, Catholic protestors demanded the immediate release of their brothers and sisters who were beaten cruelly in a violent police raid on Monday and have since then been detained indefinitely. During the said incident, police fired teargas at parishioners, who were erecting a Cross and patios on the grounded of the bombed Tam Toa church, before kicking and beating them brutally with stun guns, and batons. 18 were thrown into police trucks. 7 of them are still behind the bar and risk being prosecuted. Police have charged Catholic activists of “counter-revolutionary crimes, violating state policies on Americans’ War Crimes Memorial Sites, disturbing public order, and attacking officials-on-duty,” state-run media outlets reported.
Right after the incident, Nhan Dan (People), a mouthpiece of the Politburo – the supreme leading body of Vietnamese Communist Party – initiated a media campaign calling for severe punishments against Catholics of Tam Toa. The article in the Nhan Dan has seen as a strong signal from the Party for extreme actions against efforts of Catholics to regain Church properties. The start shot of the highest power newspaper has been followed by most state-own media outlets including television channels. Facing the wake of fierce attacks from state media, on July 24, 2009, the Bishopric of Vinh Diocese issued a statement rebuffing accusations from Vietnam government.
“Parishioners of Tam Toa did not violate the laws when they build patios on the ground of Tam Toa church. Up till now, Tam Toa church premise, and its bell tower still remain in the ownership of Tam Toa parish of the diocese of Vinh,” said the statement, demanding the government to “stop immediately the distortion of truth, the defamation of religion, and the instigation of hatred between Catholics and non-Catholics.”
News relating to the Vatican visit of communist leader Nguyen Minh Triet on November and a potential pastoral Vietnam visit of Pope Benedict XVI at un-specified time have been also exploited to their wildest extends. Citing them as an evident of a significant improvement on religious freedom, state media have attacked Catholic leaders and faithful who have actively involved in struggles for the requisition of Church properties as “bad Catholics” who blatantly disregard the laws and continually disrupt public order. In particular, the parishioners of Tam Toa have been accused as “a group of gang rivals” who challenged the laws by attacking officials-on-duty.
In its response, the Bishop’s Office of Vinh Diocese was determined to set the record straight: “We have enough evidence to state that the police of Quang Binh had beaten our faithful before arresting them illegally. Police seized our Cross and confiscated other Church properties as well as our faithful's ones,” the statement said. On July 22, 2009, the People’s Committee of Quang Binh province sent summoning orders to representatives of the Bishop’s Office and the College of Priests of Vinh Diocese to ask them come to the Committee to discuss on the “the situation of Catholic activities on the area”. The orders were rejected. “While our Cross – a great, sacred symbol of our faith is still being profaned by the police of Quang Binh, and while our faithful are still being jailed unjustly, we cannot come to talk with the Provincial Committee,” explained Fr. Anthony Pham Dinh Phung, Chief Secretary of Bishop’s Office in a response letter to the Committee.
Bishop’s Office of Vinh Diocese also sent a letter to the local authorities of Quang Binh demanding that the local government:
1) Release immediately and completely all Catholics who have been beaten, arrested and jailed.
2) Provide medical care for wounded Catholics beaten by police.
3) Make compensation for the patios of Tam Toa parish.
4) Return the Cross and other Church properties as well as our faithful's ones.
5) Stop immediately the distortion of truth, the defamation of religion, and the instigation of hatred between Catholics and non-Catholics.
On Sunday, Vietnamese Catholic Communities in large cities around the world spent a minute of silence to pray for victims of police violent raid at Tam Toa, and for the Church in Vietnam which has recently continually suffered persecutions by the atheist governmentFrom the diocese of Vinh, organizers of the protests have reported a couple of incidents in which Catholics had clashed with police who tried to turn them back to their villages when they tried to join in protests. Especially, at Tam Toa, at least 20 women and children were beaten badly by plain-clothed police when they were on their way to the church. Latest reports stated that after the protest at Tam Toa, on Sunday night police raid parishioners’ houses and arrested at least a women and a male university student.
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