05/19/2010, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Hanoi intensifies repression: six Con Dau faithful charged

by J.B. An Dang
Indicted for clashes in wake of police attack on faithful attempting to bury parishioner in centuries old parish cemetery. The body was forcibly taken and cremated. Government denies incident. State media portray charges as a victory.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Six parishioners Con Dau have been reported to provincial authorities in Da Nang for "disturbing public order" and "attacking state security personnel who were performing their lawful duty”.  The charges relate to what happened on May 4 during the funeral procession of 82 year old Mary Tan.  The police intervened to prevent the burial in the local cemetery. For almost an hour there were clashes (see photo) between 500 faithful and police, who wounded many Catholics and arrested 59 people.

The coffin was taken from the woman's family and was later cremated, against the wishes she had expressed, to be buried alongside her beloved husband and members of his family, in the old parish cemetery.

The Vietnamese government denied that Catholics were arrested or injured. According to Foreign Ministry spokesman, Nguyen Phuong Nga, "this information is false and is intended only to slander Vietnam". "The truth - he said - is that this affair has nothing to do with religion."

Instead the bishop of Da Nang in central Vietnam, Mgr. Joseph Chau Ngoc Tri, denounced the incident in a pastoral letter dated May 6, in which he condemned the episode and asked the faithful and authorities to control themselves to avoid further violence. "The police is searching for other faithful," wrote the bishop.

The fact is that the peaceful life of Con Dau was overturned earlier this year by the local authorities' decision to demolish all the houses in the parish, created 135 years ago to create a tourist resort, without offering fair compensation or support for resettlement. The cemetery of the parish covers an area of 10 hectares, about a mile from the church. For 135 years is has been the only burial place for the faithful and was previously included in the government’s list of protected historical sites.  That was until March 10, when security agents put a sign at the entrance to the cemetery with the inscription "No burials in this area." When a parishioner went to protest, the head of the police sprayed tear gas in his face, causing him to pass out.

At the news of the attack, other residents gathered at the cemetery and demanded the police to call an ambulance to treat the wounded man.

A week before these events, a member of the Patriotic Front and two officials from the Religious Affairs Bureau had visited the parish, to invite the priest to warn the faithful against continued burials in the cemetery. The priest refused, saying the cemetery and the parish belong to the same village and that there are documents that prove ownership. Residents continue to oppose the proposal that will lead to destruction of their homes, their land and the resting place of their ancestors. The authorities, however, are pushing ahead and have threatened that soon they will be sending bulldozers to clear the parish.

Beyond the seriousness of what has happened, the fear among Catholics is that the authorities are preparing to launch a new wave of persecution against the faithful.  Both the episode in Dau, and the recent resignation of the Archbishop of Hanoi have been presented by the government media as "victories" of the authorities, even internationally, demonstrating the absolute power of the government, which has also succeeded in subjugating the Pope.
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