05/20/2015, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Hue priests and faithful defend Thien An monastery targeted by communist authorities

by Truong Anh
The place of worship under attack by police and thugs hired by the local government. The government wants to seize the property and the park, which is home to a protected forest, to build an amusement park. Catholic students: "psychological terrorism to force the Church to sell the land."

Hue (AsiaNews) - Another attack of the communist authorities against a property of the Vietnamese Church, long at the center of a campaign of requisitions and forced evictions. This time round the local administration has set its sights onae monastery of Thien An, founded 10 June 1940 by French missionaries in the diocese of Hue, in central Vietnam.

The monastery is a popular retreat destination for faithful and is home to a community of priests, nuns, religious and seminarians who carry out pastoral activities (the service of Catholics and believers of other religions), in three different churches in the city.

The local administration intends to seize the area of ​​a hundred acres and the adjacent structure, making it available to the travel agency "Hue Ancient Capital" for the construction of a leisure center and an amusement park.

In recent days the monastery has been the subject of attacks by gangsters and thugs hired by local authorities to frighten the Catholics and convince them to leave the area. Added to this violent intimidation are frequent police raids, during which agents broke into the facility and threatened to occupy it.

A two-pronged attack, to which priests and faithful are resolutely opposed, and refuse to hand over land and structure.

Moreover according to Vietnamese law the monastery of Thien An is a place of worship for the practice of religion. It has helped with many projects, in the social and cultural development of the area, along with initiatives to protect the environment, health protection and preservation of a protected forest.

Local sources describe it as the "green lung" of the ancient capital of Vietnam "for the benefit of the whole community", while the project of the travel agency will only serve to enrich a small minority.

A group of Catholic students, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AsiaNews that "so far the local authorities have not desisted from about occupying the land of the Vietnamese Church", with the sole purpose of "doing business".

Police and criminals "threaten the security of the religious", they add, and use "psychological terrorism to seize land in order to implement their illegal business at any cost."

Against this latest attempt to expropriate Church land the faithful of the diocese of Hue have rallied round to those who live in the monastery of Thien An, promoting prayer vigils against government abuses and violations of religious freedom.

Vietnam's 87 million people include 48 per cent Buddhists, more than 7 per cent Catholics, 5.6 per cent syncretistic and 20 per cent atheist.

As a small, albeit significant minority, the Christian community is particularly active in education, health and social affairs.

Conversely, religious freedom has steadily eroded in recent years. Under Decree 92, more controls and restrictions have been imposed on religious practice, boosting the power of the Communist Party and the one-party state.

The authorities have targeted religious leaders, including Buddhist and Catholic leaders, as well as entire communities.

In 2013, media and government carried out a smear campaign and targeted attacks against the bishop and ordinary Catholics in the Diocese of Vinh.

More generally, government repression tends to touch everyone who defends civil rights and the right to religious freedom.

Recently, the Vietnamese bishops have strongly criticized a bill on "Faith and religion" by the Hanoi government, that violates the freedom of religion and limits practice.

According to the prelates,  the norm goes against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam which, in principle, protects the practice of worship.

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