Vietnam warns Catholics against mass protests

”]The Head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict the 16th, and Vietnams prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung. [Reuters]Vietnam’s prime minister has warned Roman Catholic leaders the communist state will not tolerate mass protests by followers demanding the return of seized church land.

Prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung criticised Catholic mass gatherings held in two parishes of the capital Hanoi in recent months, in talks with Vietnam Episcopal Council leader Bishop Nguyen Van Nhon.

He told the bishop if those activities do not come to an end, they will have an adverse impact on the good ties between the state and the church and the relationship between Vietnam and the Vatican.

Catholics started their prayer vigils late last year for the return of several properties seized after the communists took power from the French in North Vietnam in 1954.

Police have in recent weeks cracked down on the vigils, arrested several protesters and locked down the disputed Hanoi properties, where the government is building public parks and a library.

Mr Dung thanked Bishop Nhon for not encouraging the protests, but charged that Hanoi Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet had instigated the gatherings and shown a “lack of respect and cooperation with the Hanoi administration.


Vietnam land dispute: clergy did not violate Church laws

BANGKOK (UCAN) — Vietnam’s bishops have affirmed that local clergy engaged in land disputes with the government in Ha Noi have not violated canon law, after the government petitioned them to deal with those clergy.

Nguyen The Thao, head of the People’s Committee of Ha Noi, petitioned the Vietnam Bishops’ Conference to “deal strictly and according to Church regulations with” Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Ha Noi and Fathers Pierre Nguyen Van Khai, John Nguyen Ngoc Nam Phong, Matthew Vu Khoi Phung and Joseph Nguyen Van That, Redemptorist priests stationed at Thai Ha parish.

On Sept. 23, Thao asked the country’s bishops to “transfer” Archbishop Kiet and the Redemptorists to places outside the archdiocese. The government official also accused the five of instigating other clergy and Catholics to violate laws, cause social disorder and hold illegal religious activities.

Earlier on Sept. 21 and 22, Thao issued statements warning Archbishop Kiet and the Redemptorists to “stop immediately their activities against the law.” If not, they would be dealt with according to the law, he threatened.

On Sept. 25 the People’s Committee of Hoan Kiem district, where the contested former apostolic nunciature is located, fined the archbishop’s house 1,750,000 dong (US$106) for having placed a cross and a Pieta statue in the nunciature compound. The government removed the religious items from the site that same evening.

After taking the cases into consideration, “we see that these clergy have not acted against current Canon Law of the Catholic Church,” the bishops affirmed in their Sept. 25 letter to the Ha Noi People’s Committee.

The letter, issued during the biennial bishops’ conference meeting, was signed by Bishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon of Da Lat, conference president. The meeting was held Sept. 22-26 at the Xuan Loc bishop’s house in Long Khanh, 1,630 kilometers south of Ha Noi.

The bishops also presented their views on various problems in the country in a two-page statement attached to their letter. They highlighted property laws that do not honor private ownership, corruption, dishonesty in state-run media, and the spread of deceitfulness in many fields, even in education. They also warned about the increasing use of force in resolving land disputes and other problems, which they said will cause more injustice in society.

They suggested laws regarding property should be amended so that people have the right to possess what is theirs, while recognizing their social responsibilities. “That will be the basic premise of fully resolving people’s land and property disputes, and developing the country,” they said.

The Church leaders maintained information on the contested nunciature has been distorted by local media, and they urged communications workers to respect the truth and be highly cautious about reporting news and publishing photos, especially when these relate to the honor and prestige of individuals and communities. “Only when respecting the truth do media really fulfill their function of communication and education so as to build a society of justice, democracy and civilization,” they added.

Noting that Vietnamese people traditionally appreciate mutual affection and harmony, the bishops expressed their desire that all people end violence in their actions and words. People also should not look at the property disputes from a political or criminal standpoint, they said.

“A satisfactory solution would be reached only through frank, open and sincere dialogue, in peace and mutual respect for one another,” they stated.

The bishops also sent their letter and statement to the premier, the president, the government committee for religious affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and local Redemptorists. These reportedly were read during Sunday Masses on Sept. 28 at all churches throughout the country, and copies distributed among local Catholics.

Many priests and Catholics from the south told UCA News they appreciated their bishops’ clear and positive views and will continue to pray for the local Church and the government to seek a proper solution to solve these cases in the near future.

Franciscan Father Guy Marie Nguyen Hong Giao, 71, told UCA News on Sept 30 that the bishops offered constructive, positive and practical suggestions. “If the government takes them into serious consideration, they surely will help bring sustainable, stable and quick development for the country.”

Vietnam: Authorities Bulldoze Building in Land Dispute

Compass Direct News

September 30, 2008

HANOI (Compass Direct News) – Authorities in Hanoi have responded to months of Catholic prayer vigils and demonstrations over disputed land by destroying the one-time residence of the papal nuncio in central Hanoi.

In suddenly bulldozing the land that once served as the Vatican embassy and residence near St. Joseph’s Cathedral last Friday (Sept. 19), the government broke its promise to Catholic leaders in February to negotiate a settlement concerning the property.

The destruction of the building held sacred by Catholics is the latest blow to Christians’ long struggle to get the government to return confiscated church properties. Catholic, Protestant and other religious leaders deemed the government response to peaceful Catholic pressure a serious setback for religious freedom.

Authorities cite Vietnamese law stipulating that lands subject to “land management and socialist land reform policies in place before 1991” cannot be considered.

On Monday (Sept. 22) the Vietnam News Agency reported that the Catholic Church ceded the Nha Chung Vatican Embassy property to the state in 1961 and that it would be turned into a library and park.

“Bookworms will soon be able to enjoy the facilities offered by a brand-new library, located at 42 Nha Chung Street, in Hoan Kiem District,” the state reported. “In addition to all of the services usually offered by a library, situated on the premises of an existing three-story, French-designed building surrounded by greenery and including a childrens’ playground, the renovation, which began last Friday, aims to better meet Hanoians’ demands for relaxation.”

Sources said Vietnam’s frequent pronouncements of new openness to religion, and the formation of a joint Catholic/government working committee regarding relationships with the Vatican and other outstanding matters, may have led Catholics to test the waters. Late last year Catholics began to hold prayer vigils outside the fence of the long-vacant Vatican Embassy seized by the government in the mid-1950s.

The historic building property on Nha Chung Street is adjacent to the Hanoi archbishop and cardinal’s residence and only a half block away from St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

The daily morning and evening prayer vigils began to draw large crowds, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, when thousands came to Masses at the cathedral. Authorities in a country where demonstrations are not allowed became seriously worried when warnings to stop went unheeded.

In discussion with Catholic leaders in late February, the government agreed to negotiate a settlement in good faith on the condition that Catholic leaders would call a halt to the prayer vigils. Archbishop of Hanoi Ngo Quang Kiet told Compass in April that after agreeing to a joint working committee, the government showed no sincerity in building relationships or in settling grievances.

In late August an aide to the archbishop told Compass in Hanoi that the twice daily prayer vigils had resumed. At that time about 100 people participated each time, but the number and intensity was growing. Catholic leaders made no secret of their appeal to prayer and assembled people as their only tools in their struggle with the government for redress on confiscated properties.

In recent weeks the Redemptorists at Thai Ha, also in Hanoi, also began prayer vigils to recover some of their large property. Over the years their part of an original plot of 60,000 square meters had been reduced by government confiscation to less than 2,000 square meters.

According to observers, the Catholics conducted themselves during their vigils with decorum and order as they reverently marched, prayed and sang. The government’s response however, quickly escalated from accusing the Catholics of interfering with traffic to accusing them of all night public disturbances – and then accusing Catholic leaders of inciting riots and breaking religion laws.

Catholic Leaders Warned

Authorities this week delivered a written warning to Archbishop Kiet warning him of “extreme action” if he did not stop the daily prayer vigils. They also issued a warning to four priests at a Hanoi church locked in the land dispute. The archbishop and priests are accused of “stirring the population” and encouraging illegal religious activity.

State and Hanoi city media releases and radio and TV coverage during September painted the Catholics in the worst possible light; sources said the media fabricated stories and paid people to speak against the Catholics. With no opportunity to make their side of the story known through Vietnam’s state-controlled media, Catholics are reporting events through VietCatholic News, Zenit and other overseas news sites.

Catholic calls for media to retract specific, demonstrably false stories and appeals to press laws have gone entirely unheeded. Rather, sources said, improbable accusations and vicious slander against Catholics sharply escalated.

Vietnam Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man, archbishop of Saigon, wrote a letter to all priests, religious and faithful on Monday (Sept. 22) denouncing the state’s media lies. Unrest is spreading throughout Vietnam’s Catholic community, believed to number more than 7 million, as the letter by the cardinal and others by bishops are read in the churches.

Thugs Bussed In

Demonstrations escalated this week with estimates of 7,000 to 10,000 people, including students gathered at Thai Ha on Wednesday night (Sept. 24). It was said to be the largest public demonstration since the Communist unification of Vietnam 33 years ago.

Wednesday afternoon (Sept. 24), hundreds of police and plainclothes officers tried to control an upset crowd of Catholics as a statue of the Virgin Mary was removed from the Vatican Embassy area under police protection and taken to an unknown location. The next day, sources said, authorities recruited gangs that included uniformed Communist youth league members and others and bussed them to the site, where they attacked Catholic protestors outside the archbishop’s residence.

Similar gangs destroyed property, including sacred items at Thai Ha, the same day.

The state media also announced that the 17,000-square meter Thai Ha Redemptorist property in Hanoi is also to be turned into a public park.

The reversion to old-style, default Communist repression involving violence cloaked in lies is also worrying to Vietnam’s Protestants, some of whom have joined Catholics in the prayer vigils.

Protestant leaders contacted by Compass were united in their disappointment in and condemnation of the government’s belligerent response to peaceful prayer vigils.

“Sadly, the government has again shown its true attitude toward religions,” said one Protestant leader. “We have doubted the sincerity of recent improvements, and now they have clearly shown everyone what is still in their hearts.”

Some Vietnam observers fear the government’s belligerence may be evidence of hard-liners’ ascendance in an ongoing struggle with more moderate reformers. The timing of this property destruction, some Vietnamese church leaders said, is calculated to take advantage of uncertainty in the United States, especially as elections draw near.

Vietnam Shows ‘Disturbing’ Disregard for Human Rights, Says U.S. Agency

A U.S. government body denounced Vietnam this past week for what it described as the continuation of a “disturbing” disregard for basic human rights.

Sun, Sep. 28, 2008 Posted: 09:28 AM EDT

A U.S. government body denounced Vietnam this past week for what it described as the continuation of a “disturbing” disregard for basic human rights.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)’s comments come as police in Vietnam continue to inflict violence against protestors at peaceful vigils on properties formerly owned by the Catholic Church of Vietnam.

Also, authorities had arrested religious freedom advocates and detained pro-democracy activists earlier this month.

“Too often in Vietnam, individuals who peacefully organize and express views about religious freedom and human rights – and the freedoms required to protect them – are detained, arrested, or intimidated,” said USCIRF Commission Chair Felice D. Gaer.

“As a member of the U.N. Security Council, Vietnam should be upholding human rights fully and should not view peaceful actions to advance religious freedom as a security threat,” she stated.

Since December, Catholics in Hanoi have been holding prayer vigils at Catholic church properties to demand they be return to the Church. The properties were seized by the communist government in the mid-1950s.

There have been brief clashes with police, but over the past three weeks police have detained as many as eight protestors at a former monastery, according to reports. Security personnel also used batons to break up a silent vigil seeking the release of those arrested.

At least 12 people were briefly detained following the vigil and one priest had serious injuries.

USCIRF said it received “disturbing” reports of the Vietnamese government’s accusations against Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, who it claims incited protests, and its threats to take “extreme actions” to end the peaceful vigils.

The U.S. agency in particular highlighted the case of Li Thi Cong Nhan, who met with USCIRF late last year.

“It is outrageous that Li Thi Cong Nhan was ever arrested in the first place, and that she hasn’t been released,” Gaer said. “She and all prisoners of concern in Vietnam should be released immediately, without conditions, and without the frequent follow-on sentence of house arrest that Vietnamese authorities use to restrict the freedom of rights advocates.”

The U.S. Commission calls on the State Department to re-designate Vietnam as one of the worst violators of religious freedom by labeling it a Country of Particular Concern, and to release unconditionally all prisoners of concern.

Ethan Cole
Christian Post Reporter

Vietnam Shows ‘Disturbing’ Disregard for Human Rights, Says U.S. Agency|

Archbishop of Hanoi: freedom of religion is a right, not a concession from the authorities

by J.B. An Dang

With a new campaign in the media, the authorities are trying to eliminate popular support for the Catholics. A gang of thugs threatens the faithful going to pray at Thai Ha, and even bursts into the church, shouting obscenities. Expressions of solidarity from the other dioceses of Vietnam, and also from the United States.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Freedom of religion is a human right, and not a favor granted by the government. This principle has been reiterated by various sources, in reply to the authorities of Hanoi which, as they continue their campaign of intimidation and abuse against the Catholics over the status of the former apostolic delegation and the parish of Thai Ha, are also seeking to eliminate popular support for them. This solidarity is arriving from outside of Hanoi, from other dioceses of the country, but also from abroad. The Vietnamese bishops are having the complete text of the statements by the archbishop of Hanoi read at every Mass. A prayer vigil has also been held in the United States, in California.

The campaign of violence and threats, meanwhile, has grown more severe. On Saturday, a gang of “state thugs” attacked the monastery of the Redemptorists in Hanoi. “In the afternoon”, says Fr Joseph Nguyen, “about 100 thugs began to threaten the people coming to pray at the church of Thai Ha. Then they entered the church shouting obscenities at those who were praying”. “This happened in broad daylight”, he adds, “right in front of a large number of policemen. When the parishioners asked the officers to intervene, they refused”. The Redemptorists were thus forced to shut the main entrance and cancel some of the scheduled activities.

That morning, Hanoi police officers had gone to Thai Ha to threaten “extreme actions”. “The police”, the priest says, “said that they are examining legal action against the Redemptorists, whom the authorities accuse of inciting and organizing protests among the faithful, to gain popular support for their cause”.

Precisely in order to oppose this “support”, the head of the people’s committee of Hanoi has recalled that Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet – who had gone to the committee to present a protest – “facilitated the religious activities of Catholics, especially at Christmas”. This has been presented by the state media, especially on television, as proof of the ingratitude of Catholics, who are subjected to a sort of public trial. “We knew”, the archbishop comments, “that the relaxation of restrictions on religious activities would come with conditions. But there seems to be a psychological attitude according to which, in response to a request, I grant you a favor. But religious freedom is a natural human right, and everyone has the right to enjoy it. A government ‘for the people’ must feel the responsibility of allowing everyone the means to enjoy it. It is not a favor granted upon request”.

On another front, the people’s committee of the district of Hoan Kiem, where the former apostolic delegation is located, has notified the archbishop of Hanoi that it has confiscated the statue of the Pietà, saying that it was brought inside the building for the first demonstration, before Christmas. In reality, the statue has been kept inside the building since before it was confiscated by the communists in 1959.

In many Vietnamese dioceses, solidarity is being shown with the Catholics of Hanoi, especially after the statement from the bishops’ conference in support of Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet. In Haiphong, for example, the chancellor, Fr Paul Vu Dinh Viet, has provided for “the reading of the complete statement from the archbishop during the Sunday Masses, together with the necessary explanations”. in Ho Chi Minh City, where every parish carries out pastoral and social activities to advance the traditions of the local Church, the parish of Binh Thuan is organizing monthly meetings for young people. This month, about fifty of them gathered to talk about “the lives and faith of the young people of our time”.

The small groups examine and present the expectations of the young people to the parish. “This month”, the leader of one group tells AsiaNews, “we prayed for Church leaders, asking God to grant them peace and to help the bishop of Hanoi, the priests of Thai Ha, and the people there”. All of the groups have expressed their hope “that there may be peace in our lives, and that religion may not be discriminated against, that the human rights of all people be respected”.

Abroad, in California, in Orange County, Buddhists, Catholics, and representatives of other religious groups led hundreds of people in a prayer vigil (in the photo) for the Catholics of Hanoi, and called upon the Vietnamese government to put an end to the persecution against them. They were joined on Friday evening by numerous political representatives, like Senator Lou Correa, assemblymen Van Tran and Jose Solario, and other members of the Senate and assembly of the state of California, and others from Westminster, Garden Grove, and Santa Ana.

Fr John Tran Cong Nghi of the VietCatholic News Agency illustrated the developments in the situation of the former apostolic delegation of Hanoi and in Thai Ha, asking for “justice for illegally expropriated property”. “In Vietnam” he added, “many farmers and poor people have asked in vain for the restitution of their property. The authorities prefer to persecute them rather than caring for them. The right to private property is not taken into consideration, and moreover there is corruption and bribery, which have worsened the situation. The Church of Vietnam has always stood beside those who suffer injustice, to raise them up from their frustration and pain”.

“I am here with you tonight”, said Senator Lou Correa, “to ask the Vietnam communist government to respect human rights and justice, and to stop immediately all repression.”

J.B. Vu and Anthony Vu contributed to this report.
VIETNAM Archbishop of Hanoi: freedom of religion is a right, not a concession from the authorities – Asia News

In Ho Chi Minh City calls for justice and prayer for those who “persecute us”

7000 Vietnamese Catholics Gather for Prayer and Solidarity
By Ngo Quang Kiet

Asia News

7,000 people took part in a prayer vigil during which participants express communion with Hanoi Catholics, victims of a vicious attack by city authorities and the Communist Party.

HO CHI MINH CITY (AsiaNews) – 7,000 Catholics held a vigil in Ho Chi Minh City during which they prayed for those who “persecute us”, urging people to leave the “house of violation,” expressing their communion with the archbishop of Hanoi and the priests of Thai Ha, increasingly targeted by more vicious attacks by Hanoi City authorities and the Communist Party.This is the largest demonstration ever seen since the Communists took over the city in 1975.

The vigil is taking place around our Mother of Perpetual Help Church. Many of the people who have come are young; they are here despite a memo sent by Nguyen Van Ngai, deputy director of the city’s Education Department, asking schools to “prevent bad elements among the students from participating in anti-government demonstrations.” Dated 24 September, the note urges official to pay close attention to the period that goes from 24 to 28 September.
This has raised concerns because the dates correspond to the time frame of a rumoured “drastic action” the authorities are said to be preparing against Catholics in Hanoi. In fact even the Bishops’ Council of Vietnam is ripe with such fears.

The vigil began at 7 pm but the area was already full by 6. Father Dominique celebrated Mass, urging “Vietnamese Catholics to leave the house of violation for the house of peace.” Catholics, he said, must “rid themselves of pressure, anger and hostility in order to love and pray for those who persecute us because they too are our brothers and sisters.We live in Jesus,” he added.In this context priests, men and women religious and the lay people prayed for Mgr Ngo Quang Kiet, archbishop of Hanoi; Fr Vu Khoi Phung, parish priest at Thai Ha; the Redemptorists and the clergy and laity living in the parish. They prayed for justice, peace and truth in Vietnam.

Sadly, the Vietnamese government and media have not understood what Catholics want.Like their fellow citizens Catholics want to see Vietnam develop its economy, culture, society and political stability.Instead in the last few days state-owned newspapers and TV stations have misinformed the public with regards to the “prayers for peace and justice offer by lay members of Thai Ha parish.”
The government is under the impression that the former are trying to challenge local authorities. City officials unleashed a mob of a hundred thugs who threatened people who came to their church to pray, shouted obscenities at men and women religious, spit in the face of one in particular, ransacked the church and shouted well into the night that they wanted to kill Father Phung and the archbishop.

In fact all that Catholics want is justice and peace from the nation’s leaders.During the vigil the statement issued by the archbishop of Hanoi was read out fully, unlike the distorted version reprinted in the print media.
Card Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, archbishop of the country’s largest city that was once known as Saigon, gave instructions for his colleague’s letter to be read out during Sunday Mass.People want the government to put an end to the press campaign against Catholic priests, faithful and Church; instead they want the authorities to respect their own laws and let the properties in dispute go back to their rightful owners.

Contribution by J. B. An Dang

Source: Asia News

Vietnam To Build Another Park On Land Claimed By Catholics

9-25-08 5:10 AM EDT

HANOI (AFP)–Communist Vietnam has stepped up the pressure in a long-simmering land dispute with the country’s Catholics by authorizing the construction of public parks on two key sites claimed by the Church.

Catholics have for months staged prayer vigils in the capital Hanoi, calling for the return of land they say was taken from them after the communists took power from the French in North Vietnam in 1954.

Vietnamese officials counter that the Church donated the land to the state more than half a century ago, a claim the Catholics have denied.

Last week, authorities stepped up their campaign by starting construction of a public park on the site of the former Vatican embassy in the heart of Hanoi’s old town, an area popular with foreign tourists.

Municipal authorities said Tuesday they would convert a second site claimed by the Catholics in Hanoi’s Dong Da district, site of tense protests in recent weeks, into a park, the communist newspaper Nhan Dan reported.

“We’ve told them we’ve launched a legal complaint to resolve this. There is no justification for building this park,” priest Vu Khoi Phung said.

Vietnam, a unified communist country since the war ended in 1975, has Southeast Asia’s largest Catholic community after the Philippines – at least six million out of a population of 86 million.

All religion remains under state control, but Hanoi’s relations with the Catholic church had improved in recent years, leading to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung making a landmark visit to the Vatican in 2007.

But now, those relations are in jeopardy – priests allege physical abuse by security forces and ordinary citizens during their peaceful protests, and authorities have hit out at the Archbishop of Hanoi through the state press.

Father Nguyen Van Khai said police struck demonstrators with batons at a peaceful protest in August. Authorities have denied those claims.

On Sunday, protesters said bystanders berated them and spat on them – but police did nothing to stop the abuse.

“Since Sunday, there have been tales of violence every night,” Khai said.

Meanwhile, the state press has taken aim at Hanoi Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet, with the security forces daily An Ninh Thu Do accusing him of “undermining national unity” and “humiliating” authorities.

State media reported he received a warning from the government not to ” organize illegal religious activities.” The priests of Dong Da district also received an official warning to toe the government line.

The archbishop, asked about the state of relations between Vietnam and the Church, said the improvements were purely “on the surface.”

“There have only been a few improvements that the government can’t prevent, like on the issue of ordination” of priests, he said.

In a sign of the tensions sparked by the long-simmering row over church land, a U.S. journalist for the Associated Press, or AP, was detained as he covered last Friday’s start of construction at the former Vatican embassy site.

Dozens of priests, nuns and seminary students had turned out to pray in silent protest as work began.

The AP has accused Vietnamese police of beating Ben Stocking, the agency’s Hanoi bureau chief, saying police took his camera and, when he asked for it back, hit him on the head with it and punched him.

Vietnam has denied the allegations and accused Stocking of breaking the law by taking photographs in an off-limits zone.

Vietnam To Build Another Park On Land Claimed By Catholics