Catholics take to the streets in Hanoi demanding justice
J.B. An Dang
Thousands of faithful began demonstrating this morning to defend Thai Ha Parish against the unlawful seizure of what is left of its land. They also protested against the defamation campaign against them by state TV.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Thousands of Catholics took to the streets this morning in Hanoi (pictured), demanding justice for Thai Ha Parish and the nearby Redemptorist monastery. They waved banners: one stated, "Do not trespass on religious land and property", another called on the government to "return what you borrow", and a third said, “We protest Hanoi TV's defamation and distortion of the truth about Thai Ha parish”.
The protest was provoked by a decision taken by the Dong Da District People’s Committee to seize the limited land that is left to the local Catholic community in order to build a sewage treatment system for a nearby hospital.
Bought in 1928 by the Redemptorists, the original property covered an area of 61.455 sq m. Now only some 2,700, sq m are left.
The conflict reached its peak in 2008 and 2009 when days of protest by thousands of Catholics ended in the trial and conviction of eight of them for disturbing the public order.
The dispute’s latest round began on 8 October when the local parish priest, Fr Joseph Nguyen Van Phuong, was summoned to appear before the Dong Da District People’s Committee to be informed that they had decided on how to dispose of the parish’s land.
Men and women religious as well as parishioners reacted by staging protests. This was followed on 3 November by an assault carried out by hundreds of police agents and soldiers using dogs and truncheons, taped by a TV crew. Using loudspeakers, the attackers hurled insults and stones at the convent, breaking its main door. Only the quick intervention of faithful from neighbouring parishes brought in by tolling bells stopped the attack.
On Wednesday, 500 riot police and security forces escorted dozens of bulldozers to start building the hospital sewage treatment system, just a few metres from the existing church.
At the same time, despite threats of retaliation by the authorities, people began their protest in front of the People’s Committee headquarters, whilst plainclothes police officers take pictures and videotape the protesters.
“I’m not scared,” Peter Tuan Nguyen told AsiaNews. “We need to lift the veil from the injustices committed in Vietnam.”
“Why I came here? Well, to protest before the international community [against] the ongoing persecutions we have suffered for almost seven decades,” said Maria Thanh Tran.