07/31/2012, 00.00
VIETNAM

Catholic dissident’s mother sets herself on fire. Anger and bewilderment of Vietnamese

by J.B. An Dang
Dang Thi Kim Lieng's self-immolation in front of government offices in the southern province of Bac Lieu. Her daughter Maria Ta Phong Tan, a former policewoman converted to Christianity, is in jail awaiting trial. She faces up to 20 years in prison for propaganda against the state. Human rights activists and bloggers: specious accusations.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The Vietnamese Catholic community is in shock over the death of Dang Thi Kim Lieng, mother of Mary Ta Phong Tan (pictured), a famous dissident in jail awaiting trial who faces up to 20 years in prison. The woman set herself on fire in front of government offices in the southern province of Bac Lieu, to protest against abuses by the prison authorities who hold her daughter, depriving her of basic rights. The mother died from severe wounds inflicted by the flames sparking the reaction of many bloggers in the country, who accuse the Communist Party and government leaders of a policy of repression and of systematically violating the freedom of religion and thought, with trumped-up charges including "spreading propaganda against the state."

Without saying a word to family and friends, Dang Thi Kim Lieng went to the government offices in the province of Bac Lieu and self-immolated. Activists and lawyers who fight for human rights in Vietnam say that the woman died during her transport to the hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. However, neither police nor the official authorities have commented on the case or confirmed the event. Some relatives report that Dang recently appeared very concerned about the fate of her daughter Maria Ta Phong Tan, locked in a prison in the former Saigon, whom she has not seen since last September, the date of her arrest. The police maintain she is guilty of "subversive activities" and of having written "slander" published online, discrediting the Hanoi government and the Communist Party.

The hearing in court against Mary Tan, 44, should begin on 7 August and there is a very real possibility she will be sentenced to decades in prison. She is a former police officer well known in Vietnam, because she denounced abuses and distortions of the prison system online (see AsiaNews 17/04/2012 Vietnamese government tries three bloggers for writing about strikes and justice). Her decision to convert to Catholicism also weighs against her, after an adolescence and childhood characterized by continuous "brainwashing" in Communist ideology. However, her encounter with a lawyer and activist for human rights sparked her desire to rediscover the faith that, over time, led her to baptism.

The Vietnamese government has implemented tight control over religious activities, and Catholics are often victims of violence and abuse, both individuals and entire communities. Among the many examples are the Montagnards in the Central Highlands and the Redemptorist Fathers, in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, whose pastoral commitment is choked with systematic regularity. However, this violence did not prevent them from playing a key role in the spread of Catholicism and the teachings of the Church, especially among the poor and the abandoned (see AsiaNews 05/08/2011 Redemptorists teach Church's social doctrine in Ho Chi Minh City).

 

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