10/21/2009, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Police in Hue seizes last bit of land belonging to Loan Ly Parish

by Emily Nguyen
Hundreds of agents attack parishioners, erect a fence around Catholic land. The authorities also block telephone and internet access to prevent the faithful from sounding the alarm. Local politicians and developers target the area. Work to remove the statue of Our Lady in La Vang resumes.
Hue (AsiaNews) – The Vietnamese government has seized the remaining land held by the Catholic Parish of Loan Ly, in the Archdiocese of Hue, following the closing of catechism classes last September and the subsequent clashes between parishioners and police. On 16 October, Huynh Duc Hai, deputy chairman of the local People’s Committee, ordered hundreds of police agents to take over the ground that a group of parishioners (pictured) were cleaning up in preparation for next Sunday’s catechism. At the same time, in the nearby Diocese of Vinh, Catholics have sounded the alarm because the government wants to remove a statue dedicated to Our Lady of La Vang, near the cemetery.

In recent days, anti-Christian violence and the seizure of assets owned by the Church has escalated. This has prompted Elaine Pearson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch for Asia, to say that “respect for human rights and religious freedom has sharply deteriorated [in Vietnam] since the US removed it from its blacklist” and Hanoi “was accepted into the World Trade Organization.”

On 16 October for example, police in Loan Ly attacked Catholics who were protesting the seizure of their catechism classrooms. Led by Captain Nguyen Tien Dung, police attacked the parishioners outside their church, yelling and using foul language. Agents erected fences around the premises and put up a board stating the land did not belong to the church of Loan Ly but to Phan Van Tung, a local government official.

To make sure Loan Ly parishioners’ call for help did not reach the outside world, all internet and phone access to the area were cut-off prior to the invasion. The authorities also placed all priests in the neighbouring areas under close surveillance.

The land in question, located behind the Loan Ly Church, had been donated by President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1956.

Many believe the Loan Ly Parish is being slowly squeezed and parishioners deprived of space for religious activities because the former is located in an area along the exotic coastal line of Central Vietnam that developers want for themselves.

Similarly, in the neighbouring Diocese of Vinh, the local government is back in its attempt to remove a statue of the Virgin Mary placed by parishioners in April of last year on a boulder in the parish cemetery across the road from Bau Sen Church. With the emergency caused by typhoon Ketsansa over, local authorities have sent in bulldozers to remove the statue.

An anonymous source in the pro-government Fatherland Front said provincial authorities approved a budget of 1.2 billion dong (US$ 68,000), a considerable amount for a poor province like Quang Binh, to complete the demolition work.

Rev John Nguyen Van Huu, pastor at the local Protestant Church in Bau Sen, appealed to Catholics and people of good will to “protect this sacred religious symbol” and “defend religious freedom in Vietnam.”

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