Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Vietnamese police attacked hundreds of Catholics protesting in front of their church, using live ammunition and throwing grenades. Protesters were demanding the release of two parishioners arrested in June and held without charges.
According to eyewitness accounts, the incident, which took place yesterday in My Yen Parish, Nghe An province (north-central coastal region), was one of the most violent and bloody acts of repression carried out by the authorities in recent years.
An unknown number of people ended up in hospital for medical treatment with some patients in serious condition transferred urgently to Hanoi.
Police used batons and fired into the air to disperse the crowd, arresting an unspecified number of demonstrators.
State-controlled TV reported that about 300 people went to the Nghi Phuong village People's Committee building in Nghi Loc district early Wednesday morning, saying they would not budge until My Yen parishioners Ngo Van Khoi and Nguyen Van Hai were freed after their unwarranted detention.
A day earlier, about 1,000 people, some of them carrying large banners, had campaigned for the pair's release.
Tensions were high also because for two days, the authorities had announced the release of the two men without actually doing so.
"They [police] fired 15 [gun] shots in front of the My Yen church. They beat some parishioners with electric batons," an eyewitness told Radio Free Asia (RFA).
A website linked to the Vietnamese Redemptorist Church posted pictures of dozens of people receiving treatment for serious injuries to the head, hand, stomach, and neck.
Online reports said up to 3,000 police officers and soldiers may have been mobilised in the crackdown. According to some eyewitnesses, police tried to stop people from getting treatment.
Ngo Van Khoi and Nguyen Van Hai were detained last June by men belonging to security agencies. They have been held without a formal indictment since then.
Their families have reported that they are in prison for "disturbing public order", but no specific incident was mentioned that would justify their detention.
In Vietnam, the authorities continue their repression against bloggers, activists and dissidents seeking religious freedom, respect for civil rights, and the end of one-party hegemony, which is now the object of a petition.
In 2013 alone, Hanoi arrested more than 40 activists for crimes "against the state", a charge useful for repression but too "generic" and "vague" for human rights groups.
The Catholic Church has also been forced to submit to limits and restrictions, its members victims of persecution.
In January, a local court sentenced 14 people, including Catholics, to prison on charges of attempting to overthrow the government, a decision criticised forcefully by activists and human rights groups.