|Posted on : 2008-08-29 | Author : DPA
Hanoi – The Vietnamese government held an unusual press conference Friday to justify its actions in arresting up to six Catholic protestors over a land dispute at a church in Hanoi. The government presented an eight-minute video compiled from police surveillance footage, dozens of still photos and copies of documents dating back to 1963 to make its case against the land protests, which on Thursday led to the arrests and clashes between police and roughly 100 protesting parishioners outside a Hanoi police station.
The protests began in November but intensified on August 14 with protestors demolishing walls on the contested site, erecting tents and shrines, and organizing Masses and prayer vigils.
“From August 14, the priests and parishioners have ignored the law,” said Hanoi People’s Committee Deputy Chairman Vu Khong Khanh. “They are determined to occupy the land by all means.
“The protests centre around Nam Dong Church in Hanoi’s Thai Ha diocese, where several priests have led parishioners in a months-long campaign to regain title to an adjacent land plot nationalized by the Communist government decades ago.
“We bought the land in 1943 with the intention of building a new church, but due to the war, we couldn’t build the church,” said Father Vu Khoi Phung, head of Nam Dong Church.
The state took the land in the early 1960s, and the plot now belongs to two state-owned companies and a private garment factory. Since November, church members have destroyed several small buildings on the site, put up crosses and icons of the Virgin Mary, and held prayers there, ignoring government requests to leave.
The Hanoi People’s Committee ruled June 30 that the church had no claim to the land.
On Thursday, police arrested two protestors who they said had been heavily involved in the demolitions of structures at the site and arrested another woman for disturbing public order by leading a procession of gong players.
Priests then led roughly a hundred protesters to the police station holding the trio, and subsequent clashes led to the arrests of three more protestors, Hanoi Chief of Police Nguyen Duc Nhanh said.
A Vietnamese Christian website affiliated with the demonstrators said police had beaten protestors with electric batons and showed video of a woman at the protest with blood on her shirt.
Asked at the press conference whether police had beaten protestors, Nhanh said the department had received no such complaints but did not deny that beatings had occurred.
Khanh said a deed handing over the land to the Vietnamese government had been signed by a priest from Thai Ha church in 1963. The government provided reporters with a copy of the deed.
Vietnam’s economy today is increasingly capitalist, and most of the country’s land is now in private hands, but the country had a strict, Soviet-style socialist economy from 1954 to the 1980s, and large tracts of land were taken over by the state.
A Vietnamese government decree issued in 2003 stated that land nationalized during the socialist period before 1991 is not subject to claims of restitution. Similar legal measures have been passed in many formerly Communist countries to avoid perpetual confusion over real estate ownership.