By BosNewsLife Asia Service
HO CHI MINH CITY (BosNewsLife)– A tense calm returned to Vietnam’s largest city Friday, August 2, after several people were injured in a violent government crackdown on Catholics praying for the resolution of land disputes, Christian rights activists said.
The troubles in Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, began Wednesday, July 31, when security forces reportedly removed a crowd that was seen praying in front of the city’s statue of Our Lady outside the nearby cathedral.
Catholics were “dragged” onto buses by police while those who resisted were “brutally beaten and had their mobile phones taken away,” said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) in a statement to BosNewsLife.
“Following the assault, several people are being treated in hospital.” The group claimed to have seen photographs of at least one young woman whose face is swollen and bruised and her mouth filled with dried blood after she was allegedly beaten by police.
The Catholics had reportedly come to the church from their homes in the South-eastern and South-western provinces to pray for the resolution of land disputes after their land and properties was seized by local authorities.
‘DISRUPTING PEACEFUL RALLY’
“CSW condemns the Vietnamese authorities’ decision to forcibly remove and violently beat Catholics who had come to church to pray,” CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife.
“This was a peaceful gathering of religious believers at a legally recognized venue. The actions of the police and security agents are completely unjustified and are a violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief, enshrined in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Vietnam acceded to in 1982,” he added.
The tensions underscored mounting frustration among Catholics whose property complaints have not been resolved despite dozens of lawsuits. The confiscation of land by the Communist government especially affects the Catholic Church, activists say.
In recent years, the Catholic Church has put forward claims for land and property confiscated in the 1950s.
There was no immediate comment from Vietnamese officials to Wednesday’s skirmishes, which followed several other crackdowns in recent years.
PRIME MINISTER DEFENDS POLICY
However in September 2009 Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung told BosNewsLife in rare public comments on the issue that his government would not accept demands from the Vatican to return confiscated properties to the Catholic Church in Vietnam, prompting a further outcry among believers in his country and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
Dung also defended Vietnam’s policy to stop the Catholic Church from taking back church buildings and other properties that were confiscated by the state since 1954.
“All properties in Vietnam belong to the country and the government. And all the property claims have to be carried out according to the law. Every citizen in Vietnam, including religious groups have to respect the law and the constitution of the country,” he said following trade talks in Budapest, Hungary.
He warned religious groups not to work against the law and added that “property claims of the Vatican go against the Vietnamese constitution and the law.”
The latest turmoil in Ho Chi Minh City comes just over a year after authorities in Nghe An Province attacked Catholics in Quy Chau District in an attempt to confiscate land owned by the church, Christians said. A mob violently attacked parishioners in June 2012, leaving several with serious cuts and bruises to their face and body, witnesses said.
MORE VIOLENCE REPORTED
Earlier in 2008, peaceful protests and prayer vigils held by petitioners calling for land and property to be returned to the Catholic Church were “brutally suppressed” by police, CSW claimed.
Additionally, there has been physical attacks on priests and laypersons, disruptions to religious services, destruction of property and damage to gravestones and “sacred statues”, according to CSW investigators tracking alleged rights violations against Catholic communities in 2012-2013.
Vietnam has Southeast Asia’s second largest Catholic community after the Philippines, with at least six million followers.
Christian rights activists have criticized Washington for scrapping Vietnam from its list of Countries of Particular Concern regarding religious rights, saying the move would legitimize the Communist government and what they view as the war on religion.
“We call on the Vietnamese Government to protect the right to religious freedom of Catholics and other religious minorities in Vietnam, and to immediately end the use of force against peaceful religious activities,” CSW’s Thomas said. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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