07/06/2010, 00.00
VIETNAM

A Con Dau Catholic dies shortly after being released by police

by J.B. An Dang
Nguyen Nam was one of the faithful arrested, harassed and beaten since last May, following protests raised by the authorities' decision to use the area of the ancient cemetery of the village to build a tourist centre.

Da Nang (AsiaNews) - Nam Nguyen, a Catholic from Con Dau parish, in the Diocese of Da Nang died last Saturday, just hours after being released by police. The man, already in recent months, had been arrested, beaten and threatened by agents, following protests from residents over the closure of the cemetery of the parish and the announced destruction of their homes to build a tourist centre.

It all started earlier this year, with the local authorities decision to demolish all the houses in the parish, created 135 years ago to build the resort, without offering fair compensation or aid for resettlement. The cemetery of the parish covers an area of 10 hectares, about a mile from the church. For 135 years it has been the only burial place for the faithful and in the past, it was listed in the historical sites protected by the government. Until March 10, when security agents put a sign at the entrance of the cemetery with the inscription "Burials are forbidden in this area". When a parishioner went to protest, the head of the police sprayed tear gas in his face, causing him to faint.

On May 4, during the procession for the funeral of Mary Tan, 82, police intervened to prevent the burial in the cemetery. For almost an hour there were clashes (pictured) between the 500 parishioners and agents, leaving many Catholics wounded and 59 people arrested. The coffin was taken from the woman's family and was later cremated, against the wishes she had expressed, to be buried next to her husband and members of his family, in the old parish cemetery.

The Vietnamese government denied that there were Catholics arrested or injured. According to the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Nguyen Phuong Nga, "this information is false and aimed only at slandering Vietnam". "The truth - he said - is that this affair has nothing to do with religion”.

Instead the incident was denounced by the bishop of Da Nang in central Vietnam, Mgr. Joseph Chau Ngoc Tri, who in a pastoral letter of May 6 condemned the incident and asked the faithful and controlling authorities to avoid further violence. "The police went in search of other faithful," wrote the bishop.

His claims were backed up by the news that on May 17, six parishioners were charged by the authorities of the province of Da Nang for "disturbing public order" and "attacking state security and administration personnel who were carrying out their duties according to law. "

Among the six, Nam Nguyen, who was arrested and released. Subsequently he was again summoned by the officials, who tried to force him to lay charges against other faithful. Upon his refusal he was savagely beaten. Saturday he was released and a few hours later, he died. Fear now reigns in the village.

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