09/23/2008, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Cardinal Pham Minh Man slams manipulation by state media

by J.B. An Dang
Prelate calls on the faithful to pray for an end to the violence and for renewed dialogue in favour of justice. He points out how the words of the capital’s archbishop have been deliberately distorted.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Disinformation, arrests and violence against Hanoi Catholics have had the effect of demonstrating the communion that unites the Vietnamese Church. Since the beginning every diocese in northern Vietnam has had the opportunity of expressing its support several times. This has included the presence of tens of bishops at prayer vigils in front of the former apostolic delegation and the parish church of Thai Ha whose properties have been at the heart of the dispute with the capital’s People’s Committee (City hall). Indeed many letters of communion have also been sent from southern Vietnam. Likewise Card Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City, has made his views known as well.

In a letter to Catholics who live in what was once called Saigon and is still the country’s largest city, Cardinal Pham Minh Man reported in full the statement by Mgr Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, archbishop of Hanoi, in which the latter slams state media for distorting his views. This comes as the Bishops’ Conference is set to meet this week in Xuan Loc, a meeting scheduled long before recent developments of the situation.

In reporting Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet’s statement about his meeting with the Hanoi People’s Committee on 20 September several “government-controlled media quoted his remarks out of context and interpreted his comment in the opposite direction,” said cardinal Pham Minh Man’s letter.

He was referring here to a sentence in the statement in which Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet said: “Travelling overseas often, we feel humiliated to be carrying a Vietnamese passport because wherever we go, we are always examined scrupulously [by customs agents]. We are really sad. We desire our country to become stronger so that we can be like Japanese citizens who can pass through everywhere without being inspected. Koreans already enjoy that. We hope Vietnam becomes a strong, united country, so that we are respected everywhere we go.”

Instead of the quoting the entire paragraph state-run media simply quoted the prelate as saying “we feel humiliated to be carrying a Vietnamese passport” and then raised serious doubts about his patriotism.

It is clear that the purpose was to undermine any solidarity ordinary Vietnamese may have had for the archbishop in his dispute with the city of Hanoi over the compound where the former apostolic delegation was once located.

In Hanoi the Archbishopric noted that the archbishop’s statement had been taped in its entirety, thus excluding the possibility that he was misquoted by error. Indeed the Archbishop’s Office demanded state TV apologise for what was a clear attempt at manipulation as part of a wider disinformation campaign.

In order to find Catholics critical of the peaceful demonstrations at the former nunciature and at Thai Ha, state media resorted to underhanded actions in recent days. In one case state TV paid off a street person to say he was Christian. In another, a newspaper quoted a judge only to have him deny making the remarks attributed to him. In another still, a priest denied ever making the interview that he had supposedly given. One TV show introduced two men as priests when in fact they were not members of the clergy, nor had they ever taken any religious vows. And last but not least, another newspaper published the statement of a Catholic man, except that he was long dead.

In addition to all this, acts of intimidation, arrests and an attack by thugs have occurred as police officers look on.

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