Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The appeals court today upheld the sentence against the faithful of the parish of Thai Ha, guilty - according to the government - of "destroying property" and "disturbing public order." In reality, the 8 faithful are a few of the thousands of Catholics who participated in demonstrations and prayer vigils in order to stop the expropriation of land belonging to the parish of Thai Ha. The 8 were first sentenced in December of 2008. The president of the court, Nguyen Quoc Hoi, said that "the behavior of the accused was dangerous to society, causing serious consequences and undermining the great national unity." The accused again claimed their innocence. "A peaceful prayer," said Le Thi Hoi, one of the 8, "cannot be called 'disturbing public order'." The situation in the city and around the neighborhood of the courthouse is very tense.
At least 5,000 Catholics of the capital participated this morning in a prayer march that concluded in front of the courthouse where the appeal trial was about to begin. Yesterday evening in Saigon, another 5,000 people, Catholics and non-Catholics, prayed against the unjust trial.
The demonstration in Hanoi took place in open defiance of the threats and intimidation issued by the city government. At 6 o'clock this morning, after Mass in Thai Ha, the 5,000 faithful, accompanied by dozens of Redemptorist fathers and by priests of the diocese, marched for 12 kilometers, to within 200 meters of the courthouse. At least 1,000 police in riot gear and with guard dogs constrained the crowd of people praying and calling for justice.
The appeal trial was significantly manipulated: the defense attorney selected by the defendants, Le Tran Luat, suffered months of harassment, accusations, and threats, and finally had his license to practice his profession revoked. Yesterday, one day before the trial, the television station VTV1 issued a series of accusations against the Redemptorists, the administrators of the parish, saying that they are "manipulating" the faithful for their own undefined purposes, and asked how it could be that the priests have not yet been arrested. The same television channel had reported that the 8 defendants had admitted their guilt, while during the trial the 8 consistently declared their innocence.
Yesterday, the police inspected all of the homes in the neighborhood of Ha Dong, where the trial was taking place, in order to remove any people who are not residents there and might be staging demonstrations. Some of them were expelled from the neighborhood, and others were arrested. The police have warned residents in the area not to shelter anyone, threatening severe punishments if they do not cooperate.
Yesterday evening in Saigon, at least 5,000 people - Catholics and non-Catholics, and even local political authorities - participated in a candlelight prayer vigil for the faithful whose appeal trial took place today. More than 60 Redemptorists and 18 diocesan priests took part in the vigil, which began with Mass.
Fr. Vincent Pham Trung Thanh, the provincial superior of the Vietnamese Redemptorists, urged those present to pray for the archbishop of Hanoi, Ngo Quang Kiet, for the pastor of Thai Ha, Fr. Vu Khoi Phung, and for the defendants, who "are fighting for justice in the diocese of Hanoi."
At the homily, a priest compared the trial against the 8 with the one against Jesus: "More than 2,000 years ago, leaders at that time sentenced Jesus to death, suspending him from the holy cross. It is an unjust trial, isn’t it? . . . After the cross comes glory. Jesus himself said: I have overcome the world. The Truth will set you free. The Truth cannot die . . . In recent years there are many parishioners who have risen up to act as witnesses to justice. They are willing to accept all difficulties and adversities for the sake of the truth."