09/17/2008, 00.00
VIETNAM

By attacking Catholics over Thai Ha, state media risk dividing Vietnamese

The newspapers deride the Hmong minority women who have taken part in the prayer vigils. But this risks creating opposition between Catholics and non-Catholics. Rumors of more arrests to come.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - There is a risk of creating deep divisions in the country with the campaign of  mockery that the Vietnamese government press is conducting toward the Hmong Catholics - an ethnic minority of about 800,000, who live in the northern part of the country - describing them as superstitious, naive, docile, and childish.

At the origin of the attacks that the media have been making since Monday are the 16 Hmong women (in the photo) who traveled 38 miles from Van Nghia, in the province of Hoa Bin, to take part in the prayer vigils being held on the land of the parish of Thai Ha, which the Catholics are asking be given back. The women brought with them the large brass gongs and  other musical instruments that the Hmong use on special occasions, and especially when they want to draw attention to their complaints. The Catholic Hmong - who are numerous, like in other ethnic minorities - have actively taken part in the demonstrations in Hanoi, beginning with the ones for the restitution of the building of the former nunciature.

On Monday, the People's Police wrote that the 16 Hmong women have been tricked by Nguyen Thi Nhi, a 46-year-old woman from Son Ha, into taking part in "illegal and anti-revolutionary activities". Nhi was one of the people who came regularly to Thai Ha: arrested on September 1, there is no word on her condition, not even where she is jailed. On Saturday, the archbishop of the capital, Joseph Ngô Quang Kiệt, went to visit her family, and those of other detainees.

For their part, the government media are calling for "severe punishment" of the Hmong women, and for "detailed investigations on those who are actually behind the disturbance of public order in Thai Ha".

Against this attitude, Redemptorist Fr John Nguyen Ngoc Nam Phong - also taking part in the demonstrations in Thai Ha - during a meeting with authorities of the district of Dong Da, where the parish stands, warned against the risk that the stance of the media "could produce a deep division between the Vietnamese Catholics and non-Catholics, putting national security at risk". The priest asked the government to respect its own laws, and to demonstrate goodwill. Referring, finally, to the rumors of new arrests, he warned that these would "only make things worse, build up more tensions, and throw the problem into an unsolvable situation".

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See also
Threats and media attacks against the Catholics of Dong Da
10/04/2008
Hanoi police threaten Redemptorists and their supporters
28/08/2008
In Hanoi, stance of repression against Catholics seems to have won
19/09/2008
New directive from Hanoi on Church property: nothing will be given back
08/01/2009
Hanoi Catholics demonstrate for parish land
08/01/2008