Vietnam pursues legal action against Catholics following protests

.- The government of Vietnam is seeking legal action against the Archbishop of Hanoi following Catholic prayer vigils and protests seeking the return of church lands confiscated after the communist takeover.

The police newspaper Capital Security on Tuesday reported that the Vietnamese government is conducting legal investigations of Archbishop Joseph Ngô and several other clergymen.  The government accuses them of abusing their power to incite their followers to confront the government.  In these confrontations, the government alleges, state-owned property was destroyed and public officials were attacked.

Church leaders in Hanoi believe the investigations are an attempt to intimidate individuals, following the failure of the government to intimidate Catholics as a whole.

Thousands of Vietnamese Catholics have gathered at the gate of the former residence of the papal nuncio in Hanoi since December 18.   They have demanded the return of the property, which was confiscated in 1959 and is now planned to become a restaurant and nightclub.

The government’s allegations against the demonstrators result from an incident on January 25 in which protestors scuffled with police and threw away commercial billboards that were posted on the fence of the former nunciature, after police beat two of the protestors.

One cleric said the government was “trying to turn crime victims into criminals.”

Father Joseph Nguyen, a witness of the January 25 incident, called the government press coverage a “shameful distortion of the facts,” according to VietCatholic News.

Father Nguyen said that during the demonstration a Hmong woman had climbed over a gate to place flowers on a statue of the Virgin Mary inside the building.

Discovered by security personnel, the woman was chased around the garden of the building.  “Disregarding the woman’s explanations for her venturing into the building, the guards kicked and slapped her severely. In the witness of more than 2,000 Catholics, a security commander even loudly ordered his subordinates to beat to death the woman,” Father Nguyen said.

A man at the prayer vigil intervened, but he too was beaten.  Protestors then broke through the gate to rescue the two and scuffled with security personnel.

One prelate described the crowd’s motivation, saying, “the guards could not attack the woman brutally like that.”

Vietnam hikes rates to cool double-digit inflation

HANOI (Thomson Financial) – Vietnam’s central bank Wednesday said it would raise benchmark interest rates for the first time since December 2005, battling double-digit inflation which has sparked popular anger and labour unrest.

Aiming to cool bank lending, the State Bank of Vietnam will from February 1 raise the base rate used by commercial banks to calculate loans from 8.25 to 8.75 percent, said a statement on the bank’s website.

The State Bank of Vietnam will also raise the refinancing rate, at which the central bank lends to commercial banks, from 6.5 to 7.5 percent, and the discount rate from 4.5 to 6.0 percent, the statement said.

‘It’s a step in the right direction,’ the UN Development Programme’s chief economist in Vietnam, Jonathan Pincus, told Agence France-Presse.

‘Many economists have been saying we think the economy is overheating and that an interest rate move would be warranted to encourage savings and slow down the growth of credit, which many see as the main driver of inflation.’

The International Monetary Fund last year urged Vietnam to limit credit growth, and the government has set a goal of keeping annual inflation below gross domestic product growth, which hit nearly 8.5 percent in 2007.

Spiralling food and consumer prices — driven up by a cash influx amid Vietnam’s rapid economic growth — have hit the poor the hardest and fuelled a surge in labour strikes demanding higher wages.

In January, the second month of double-digit inflation, thousands of workers have gone on strike at scores of foreign owned plants, such as South Korean and Taiwanese textile and footwear factories around Ho Chi Minh City.

The state-run General Statistics Office estimated that consumer prices rose 14.1 percent in January from a year earlier, driven up mainly by food and construction material costs, ahead of next week’s Tet Lunar New Year.

Vietnam police launch probe against Catholic protesters

HANOI (AFP) — Police in communist Vietnam have launched an investigation into Catholic land dispute protests that swelled to about 2,000 people late last week, state media and a police officer said Tuesday.

Parishioners and priests have been holding daily vigils for over a month near Hanoi’s main St. Joseph’s Cathedral, demanding the return of a house and a block of church land seized by the communist government in the late 1950s.

Tuesday evening more than 100 faithful again defied authorities, praying and singing hymns on the disputed property, where they have erected a large white cross and placed candles and flowers on the building’s steps and walls.

They put up rain shelters and lit fires against the winter chill on the 1.1 hectare (2.7 acre) property, which the Hanoi People’s Committee has used as a community centre and for parking motorcycles.

After Friday’s rallies, when the protestors placed the cross on the site, police launched an investigation into the alleged crimes of property damage, causing social disorder and obstructing officials, the An Ninh Thu Do daily reported.

Lieutenant-Colonel Nguyen Manh Hung, from the capital’s central Hoan Kiem district investigative unit, signed a decision Saturday to launch the criminal investigation and sent it to prosecutors, said the police-run newspaper.

A police officer contacted at the investigative unit only told AFP: “I can confirm the signature on this decision but I do not want to exchange views or comments about this matter with you on the telephone.”

The state-controlled Hanoi Moi (New Hanoi) newspaper accused leaders of the Hanoi archdiocese of “abusing the belief and trust of followers to turn them into their instruments for their own goals.”

Vietnam’s government last week stressed that there is no private property in the communist nation, only land-use rights granted by the state.

“Every piece of land is in the possession of the entire nation, with the state being the representative of public ownership,” said Duong Ngoc Tan, head of the Catholics Department at the Committee for Religious Affairs.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung — who last year became Vietnam’s first communist leader to visit the Vatican — met Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet during a prayer meeting in late December and pledged to consider the issue.

The party-linked Fatherland Front and the Hanoi People’s Committee have also more recently held talks with Kiet, state media reports have said.

Vietnam has Southeast Asia’s largest Catholic community after the Philippines — about six million out of a population of 86 million.

Vietnam jails 2 dissidents for disseminating propaganda against government

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – A court in southern Vietnam sentenced two dissidents to six years in prison each for passing out leaflets calling for the communist government to be overthrown, the judge said Tuesday.

Truong Quoc Huy, 28, and Hang Tan Phat, 24, were convicted of disseminating propaganda against the government at the one-day trial Tuesday, said presiding Judge Vu Phi Long.

The two men pleaded guilty of spreading more than 3,000 pamphlets in the southern hub of Ho Chi Minh City and two other southern provinces in 2005, calling for an end to the ruling Communist Party and overthrowing the government, he said.

The two were also ordered to serve three years of administrative probation, he said.
The ruling Communist Party does not tolerate any form of dissent

Vietnam: Archbishop protests at anti-Catholic media bias 

The Archbishop of Hanoi, Most Rev Joseph Ngô Quang Ki has protested over the way Vietnam’s state-controlled media has dealt with recent news about the Catholic Church there.

For weeks, while thousands of Catholic took part in peaceful prayer vigils in several towns, calling for the return of confiscated church property, the media was completely silent, he said. Then on Saturday, the media began to carry a series of negative reports of protestors who had placed a cross and a statue in the grounds of a former church property.

Archbishop Joseph said that the state-controlled radio, television and news papers reported that the archdiocese could not challenge the ownership of the building because “on 24 November 1961, Fr Nguyn Tùng Cng, the then Financial Administrator and Property Manager of the Archdiocese, donated the property to the government.”

The archbishop set the record straight by pointing out that if Fr Nguyn had given away the property, he would have had no legal authority to do so, but in fact, the Archbishop said, Fr Nguyn did not give the property away.

The archbishop’s statement, signed by Fr John Lê Trng Cung, chancellor of the archdiocese, also challenged state controlled media reports that Hanoi Catholics had destroyed state-owned properties, occupied state-owned land, gathered and prayed illegally in public areas, attacked and insulted officials, disturbed public order, erected illegally the cross in the garden of the site, and spread distortions about the government on the Internet.

He said: “The government does not have any evidence that the Church in Vietnam did donate it, nor a decree saying that it was confiscated. Hence, it is still a property of the archdiocese”, He argued that worshipping on a site belonging to the Church is one of right “protected by laws”. It cannot be interpreted as “gathering and praying illegally in public areas”. Also, “the cross and statues of the Virgin Mary were there originally. The faithful just moved them back to where they were”.

In response to accusation of spreading distortions about the government on the Internet, the archbishop said the Church in Hanoi was not responsible for the reports, but in fact most of these reports were completely accurate. He pointed out that the local state-controlled media also had a legal obligation to report the news truthfully and not distort it.

In conclusion, the prelate asked managers of the radio and the television of Hanoi, the New Hanoi newspaper, and the Capital Security newspaper to “investigate thoroughly following legal procedures” attacks on the Church by their reporters and publicly reply to Hanoi Catholics.

Hanoi police launch investigation into land dispute with church

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – Police in Hanoi have launched a criminal investigation into a land dispute with the Catholic Church, while state-run media on Tuesday accused church leaders of abusing their power to incite followers to confront the communist government.

Catholic parishioners and priests have been holding daily vigils for the past month at the site, a block away from St. Joseph’s Cathedral in downtown Hanoi. They are praying, singing and holding candles while demanding the handing over of the land, which was taken by the government nearly four decades ago.
Thousands of followers blocked the street Friday in the largest gathering, as many from outside Hanoi came for the celebrations for the 90th birthday of Cardinal Pham Dinh Tung. It was a rare scene in Vietnam, which typically does not tolerate any form of dissent.
The parishioners removed the iron gates to the 1-hectare property, which housed the Vatican embassy until 1954 when the communists defeated French colonialists. They also planted a giant cross at the building’s entrance and set up tents on the grounds.
Their actions have violated Vietnamese laws, the New Hanoi newspaper reported Tuesday.
Police in Hoan Kiem district, where the property is located, on Saturday decided to launch an investigation into the crimes of damaging property, causing social disorder and obstructing officials from doing their duties, it said.

District police were not available for comment Tuesday.

The paper accused Hanoi’s church leaders of instigating followers to confront authorities.
«What are they pursuing when they are ruthless (in pushing) Catholic followers to confront the government?» the newspaper asked, referring to the Hanoi church leaders.

«Abusing the belief and trust of followers to turn them into their instruments for their own goals, they have gone counter to God’s teachings,» it said.

Church leaders have said they only want the land returned and are not advocating that parishioners clash with the government. Instead, they maintain the followers are holding peaceful vigils.

Vietnam: government issues ultimatum to Catholic protesters

Local government delivered an ultimatum to the Archbishop of Hanoi’s Office ordering that sit-in protesters must leave the ground of the old building of the apostolic delegation, and that the cross erected on Friday and all the statues must be removed. The dateline was set at 5pm last night local time. .

During the Friday clash with police, Hanoi Catholics took control the building for a while ­ long enough to put up a large cross in the garden. That cross “must be removed”, said the ultimatum.

On their first vigil at the site, just before Christmas, Hanoi Catholics wheeled a Pieta Virgin Mary statue from St Joseph’s Cathedral to the building where it had once been located before the communists illegally seized the building. That statue “must be removed” as well, said the ultimatum.

Despite cold rain, strong warnings and many other threatening gestures from security forces, Hanoi Catholics have been holding sit-in protests on the garden of the building since Friday. These people “must leave the ground of the building”, the ultimatum ordered.

During Saturday, The government sent some officials to the site to persuade demonstrators to leave but to no avail. Some army and security units were also deployed in the area.

In weekend Masses, the Catholic community was informed about the ultimatum, and urged to be united in prayer that God may bless, strengthen and guide them in the fight for justice. This indicates that Hanoi Catholics will defy the ultimatum and plan to continue protests.