Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The crackdown on the free profession of religion in Vietnam is becoming more pronounced. The last episode of violation of religious freedom in the communist country - also a right recognized by state law - took place on July 1 last in a Missionary Chapel in Con Cuong, a rural area of the province of Nghe An, in the northern diocese of Vinh; in raids on local Catholics combat troops and "thugs" in the pay of the authorities to target minorities or repress dissent were also used in (see AsiaNews 03/07/2012 Vinh: Catholics targeted by thugs and authorities. Dozens of faithful injured during Mass). Local sources speak of a real campaign of "religious cleansing" aimed at "wiping out" any trace of faith and worship; in particular in the rural or remote areas of Vietnam, where there is a strong revival of religious sensibility and Christianity in particular, after decades of indoctrination and atheistic communism.
The Con Cuong district authorities are increasingly willing to punish the practice of worship and spiritual needs of the local population, after having several times - in the past - hired criminal gangs and thugs to threaten and terrorize the faithful gathered in the chapel to pray . On one occasion, they also tried to blow up the little place of prayer, but all attempts proved futile.
The last incident took place on Sunday, July 1. Witnesses told AsiaNews that dozens of thugs and plainclothes officers tried to prevent Fr. JB Nguyen Dinh Thuc from entering the chapel to celebrate mass. The priest opposed the fierce resistance, trying to break through the gang, in response, the officers beat him brutally punishing the faithful who came to his rescue. Among them is Mrs. Maria Thi Than Ngho whose skull was fractured in the struggle and remains hospitalized in conditions described as "critical" in Viet Duc hospital in Hanoi. Many others were arrested and locked up in jail.
The determination of the priest and the entire Catholic community to celebrate Sunday Mass has sparked the crackdown of government officials, who requested the intervention of a military department in support of the bands of thugs. In addition to attacking the faithful with brutality, they have also wrecked havoc with the symbols of Christian faith, overturning and destroying a statue of Our Lady (pictured) in front of the stunned and frightened faithful, while hurling insults and abuse. Thanks to the cooperation of four other parishes in the area, some Christians faced and surrounded a dozen of these "thugs" who confessed to receiving about 25 dollars as "compensation" for their misdeeds.
In an attempt to respond to the violence, the faithful of Con Cuong have held demonstrations outside the police station in the district: they demanded the release of the arrested Catholics, and an investigation into the incident, the involvement of the authorities and the violence committed by criminals. The local community does not intend to give in to pressures and demands the right to free practice of religion. A struggle for religious freedom, following the example and words of their pastor: "To die on the altar - said Fr. JB Nguyen Dinh Thuc - would be such a blessing to me."