04/06/2007, 00.00
VIETNAM
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In the Montagnard region, Easter Mass is used to deny religious freedom

by Nguyen Van Tranh
With the pretext of authorising religious celebrations, authorities in the province of Kontum, where the Montagnard ethnic minority live, control and limit the rights of Catholics. State propaganda continues to describe the Church as a hostile force.

Kontum (AsiaNews) – With the pretext of allowing some villages to celebrate Easter Mass, provincial authorities from Kontum, in central Vietnam, on the border with Laos and Cambodia, are attempting to control and limit Catholic activities, particularly focusing on the region’s ethnic minorities, thus violating national legislation on religious freedom.  

The Kontum diocese which was visited by the Holy See delegation to Vietnam in March - stretches across the provinces of Kontum and Gia Lai: it’s a rural area, in the central high planes, with a population of about 1,600,000, 300thousand of who are Catholics. Half of the population – the Montagnard – is made up of ethnic minorities such as the Ba Na, Xô Naêng, Gia Rai,  EÂ- Neâ, Gieâ-Trieâng, M’Noâng, Cô Ho, Braâu and Rô Maêm. Most of who live well below the poverty line, with less than a dollar a day. 

Since March 30th, 2007 local government of one district of Kon Tum Province has sent letter number 76/UBND to Bishop Michel Hoâng Duc Oanh of Kon Tum Diocese, stating that they accepted for some hamlets to organize Ester Mass on Sunday. But in reality, the content of the paper is to ban religious activities of Catholics in the Diocese. Especially the government wants to control minority people.

Even though Vietnamese law affirms that every person has the right of religious freedom, the reality is far removed.  One young man told AsiaNews “Easter and Christmas are days of great holiday, but we must to ask permission from the local authority. They are barons of the land; they lay down the law and oppress the poor”.

An elderly woman 72 years old remembers: “When I was young, I never witnessed such a sight. Government meddling in religious organizations has increased.  The local government holds all the power in their hands. If they permit the priest to say mass, the priest can say mass. If not, we have no right to go to church”.

“Vietnam’s law on religious freedom is essential – explains Catholic lawyer Phuong to AsiaNews, - Based on the law, all Vietnamese have rights to practise their chosen faith.  But many local governments are unaware of the laws existence.  Their dealings with Catholics are dictated by the laws of the jungle. The local governments still produce propaganda which portrays the Catholic Church as a hostile force. They are always suspect of Catholics’ activities. So, they react accordingly, violating the rights of the people”.

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