Catholic World News News Feature
Viet Catholic protestors clash again with Hanoi police August 20, 2008
Vietnamese Catholic demonstrators have again clashed with police in a confrontation over the use of property that had been owned by the Church but seized by the Communsit government.
A standoff between protestors and police at a Redemptorist monastery in Hanoi erupted yesterday as security forces tried to destroy crucifixes and icons of the Virgin Mary that protestors had erected on a piece of disputed land. Police in Hanoi took strong measures to disperse Catholic protestors who have sought the return of the monastery, and have been demonstrating at the site since January. On August 19, hundreds of police came to the site of the protests. They threw away icons of the Virgin Mary and tried to destroy an altar in the area. Security forces only withdrew after thousands of Catholics rushed to the site to join with Redemptorists and their parishioners in an effort to protest the desecration.
The incident occurred after a long media campaign by the state-controlled media, accusing the Catholic demonstrators of occupying state-owned land, gathering and praying illegally in public areas, and disturbing public order.
The dispute came to a climax just after a group of French pilgrims, returning from World Youth Day by way of Vietnam, stopped to pray on the disputed site to show their solidarity with the protestors.
The disputed property consists of 15 acres of land purchased by the Redemptorist religious order in 1928. Most of the Redemptorists in Vietnam were jailed or deported after the Communist takeover in 1954, leaving a local priest in charge of the land. Despite the pastor’s protests, local government authorities have seized the parish’s land one section at a time. The 15-acre plot has been reduced to about half an acre.
At the beginning of 2008, the government allowed construction to begin at the site for the Chien Thang sewing company. The confiscated property was then surrounded by a fence and guarded by security personnel. Local Catholics began their protests in early January, leading prayer campaigns, demonstrations, and sit-ins at the site in an attempt to prevent any further construction work by the state-run company.
After three months of these protests, the People’s Committee of Dong Da District released a statement on April 6 warning the protesters that they were engaged in “illegal activities.” The statement threatened “extreme action” if demonstrations and sit-ins at land owned by the Redemptorist religious order were not halted by April 7. The statement also ordered the Hanoi Redemptorists to remove the cross and all statues of the Virgin Mary from the site, while all demonstrators were ordered to remove their camping tents. However, Catholic protestors persist that they have their rights to protest against an obvious injustice.
Hundreds of protestors are presently camped at the site. Demonstrators attend Mass each morning and evening, where plainclothes and uniformed police officers reportedly photograph and videotape them in what is seen as an intimidation tactic.