01/05/2009, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Vietnamese Catholics persecuted by authorities ask for justice

by J.B. An Dang
The sisters of Vinh Long have announced that they will not protest the appropriation of their house, if the public authorities declare that government policy is aimed at uprooting religion, while the sentenced faithful of Thai Ha threaten legal action against the state media, which falsely reported on their trial.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The Catholics who have been victims of attacks by the authorities are reacting to the abuse and misinformation against them: the sisters of Vinh Long say that they will not protest the appropriation of their house, if the public authorities declare that government policy is aimed at uprooting religion, while the faithful of the parish of Thai Ha sentenced in court are threatening legal action against the state media, which falsely reported that the accused gave confessions.

In Vinh Long, the sisters of the congregation of Saint Paul of Chartres, in a letter addressed to the various public authorities, contest the decision made last December 12, by which he people's committee (city hall) decreed that their house, already demolished (in the photo) would be turned into a luxury hotel, and the surrounding land into a public park.

Sister Huynh Thi Bich-Ngoc, provincial of the sisters, addresses the heart of the problem: "Please confirm," she writes, "if there was a governmental policy on eradication of religions and religious orders which could justify for the treatment against 18 St Paul nuns as if they were dangerous criminals; and for breaking-in, blocking up the facility, arresting the nuns and throwing them out of their dwellings with bare hands, and seizing all their properties including the religious items without any judicial order or warrant. If such a policy did exist, we would cease our complaints, realizing the government officials were only pursuing state policy. Otherwise, return the property to us."

Meanwhile, in Hanoi, another reaction is underway among persecuted Catholics, by the eight parishioners sentenced on December 8 to punishments of between 12 and 17 months in prison for taking part in the prayer vigils for the restitution of the land belonging to the parish of Thai Ha.

In their account of the trial, the state media knowingly and intentionally reported that the Catholics under accusation for damaging state property and bad behavior "sincerely admitted their guilt and begged for the government's mercy" and therefore "received reduced sentences pursuant to the tolerant policies of the party and the government."

"This was a blatant distortion of the truth by all accounts. In fact, to these charges, each and every one of them pleaded not guilty," the sentenced Catholics say in a statement. "“During the trial," one of the defendants, Nguyen Thi Viet, said in an interview with Radio Free Asia, "each of us denied any charges from the government. We insisted that we were not guilty. Those media outlets which reported that we sincerely admitted our guilt and begged for government's mercy must make corrections. Otherwise, we are going to sue them."

"I can confirm," Le Tran Luat, the Catholics' lawyer, told the same radio station, "that state media outlets falsely reported Catholics on trial sincerely admitted their guilt and begged for government's mercy. For me, the government was battling for the public opinion approval at the time when the crisis of faith in government has become more severe and widespread in ways. They had tried to force parishioners to admit guilty. Having failed to do that, they employed their media power to falsely report the trial."

Another lawyer, Luat, a non-Catholic, notes that "the eight parishioners are very polite and moderate. They have given VTV1 Television and the New Hanoi newspaper one week to make the corrections before they start the legal process against these outlets." The request for a correction has been made only to them, because all of the other state media that reported the false account of the trial did so citing them as their source.

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