Catholics and clergymen have been physically and verbally assaulted. The Church has been involved in defending the rights of the victims of the environmental disaster of April 2016. The Red Flag group has tried to prevent protests and petitions against the Formosa Group. Local authorities are behind the militants.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Violent attacks by Hội Cờ Đỏ (Red Flag) militants against the Catholic community in Nghệ An province continue unabated.
On Sunday, about 700 pro-government hooligans riding motorcycles stormed Sơn Hải, a town in Quỳnh Lưu district.
After sowing terror among residents, they threateningly set up a camp near the Văn Thai chapel in Song Ngọc parish (Vinh diocese), where they shouted insults at the parish priest.
The Red Flag militants also described Fr JB. Nguyễn Đình Thục, vicar in Song Ngọc; Fr Anton Đặng Hữu Nam, vicar in Phú Yên; and Vinh Bishop Mgr Phaolô (Paul) Nguyễn Thái Hợp as "reactionary enemies".
Clergymen and their churches have led the efforts to help fishing communities get compensation from the Formosa Plastics Group, a Taiwanese-based company responsible for Vietnam’s worst environmental disaster.
In April 2016, a massive discharge of toxic sewage from a plant in Ha Tinh province killed about 115 tonnes of fish and left millions of people, including fishermen, without a job in the four coastal provinces most affected by the disaster.
The two vicars have taken a stance for the rights of the local residents, backing their protests and legal action against the authorities for failing to deliver compensation to the victims.
Since the start of the year, Vietnam’s central government and Quynh Lưu district have mobilised a large number of media in a campaign of false accusations against the two clergymen.
In early May, the authorities in Quỳnh Lưu organised a series of rallies and demonstrations against the two priests. The protesters, recruited by the local government, have even demanded that Fr Nam be sentenced to 20 years in prison or even death.
Ever since it was founded, the Red Flag group has tried with direct action to prevent protests and petitions against the Formosa Group. The group has even slammed the priests who provided legal aid to the victims of the disaster.
"It is possible that they will continue to attack the faithful and damage their property,” said Fr JB. Nguyễn Đình Thục. “If they commit such acts of violence, it is clear that they are protected by the local government. This is also the way Communists silence peaceful voices of dissent".
Their goal is to restrain “Catholics from protesting against Formosa and to get rid of ‘Catholic enemies,’” Fr Anton Đặng Hữu Nam told Radio Free Asia.
Yesterday, 300 thugs surrounded Fr Dominic Pham Xuan Ke and Fr Joseph Nguyễn Ngọc Ngữ, two priests who went to the Diem My People's Committee to report attacks.
On 4 September, about 20 Red Flag militants in civilian clothes but armed with guns, sticks and pepper spray broke into Thọ Hòa parish church, Xuan Loc district.
They wanted to confront the parish priest, Fr Nguyễn Như Tân, over a Facebook post in which he said he hoped to see political reform in the country.
In the same month, thugs gathered in the town of Diễn Mỹ where they beat up the faithful of Đông Kiều parish. In April, hooligans attacked the Catholic community in Văn Thai.
Red Flags thugs often carry out their attacks at night, throwing stones and shouting at Catholic homes, creating an atmosphere of terror and violence.
They have repeatedly beat up Catholics with sticks, destroying their personal belongings like motorcycles, furniture, and other items. This has caused great hardship for many families, who already live in precarious conditions.
Local police have repeatedly stood idly by watching these actions. Law enforcement have failed to take action to protect people. "Plainclothes police and communist security agents are in the Red Flags group," many Văn Thai residents told AsiaNews.
The group also tried unsuccessfully to isolate the community by preventing exchanges with non-Catholics.
"Attackers act with the utmost impunity,” some residents said. “complaints and petitions filed after the attacks have been ignored by local authorities. "
"The [Red Flag] group was set up to fight people and all those who struggled to protect the environment,” said Tuyết Lan, a government official. “This is why Vietnamese Catholics fight, protesting against Formosa. By contrast, local authorities persecute and imprison their own people. The provincial government has told these gangsters to behave this way."
"We reiterate that this is a plot to carry out violent provocations and suppress parishioners in the Catholic community of Văn Thai,” said Fr JB. Nguyễn Đình Thục, who has repeatedly called on the authorities to investigate the violence. “As a result, we protest all the dangerous plans that are intended to divide Catholics from non-Catholics. "
Finally, the clergyman calls “on the government to respect and enforce Vietnam's laws, as well as protect the lives and properties of its citizens.”
Indeed, “Every protest by the faithful against the group's provocations, even if it is in self-defence, is very dangerous. Therefore, the government must be held fully accountable for all the situations that cause damage and disturbance in the area".