The College of Priest in Vinh diocese said that it would continue its demonstrations until all seven are freed. The men were arrested on 20 July following a police raid at the site of the ruins of the Tam Toa church, bombed by the Americans during the Vietnam War.
The government wants to keep it as a memorial site of American War crimes, and perhaps build tourist facilities nearby. Local Catholics want the church back because it is the only place of worship they have (see “Beatings and arrests of priests and faithful in the historic church of Tam Toa”, AsiaNews 21 July 2009)
When police raided the tent about a hundred people were hurt whilst they were praying.
Angry at such defiance the government is turning against local priests, accusing them of “trampling on the laws of the country” and “inciting the faithful into the illegal constructing a house” on a historic site.
In recent days one priest was beaten and a second one was thrown from the second floor of a building and is now in coma (pictured under doctors’ care). But the main target is Fr Le Thanh Hong, parish priest in Tam Toa, who has been attacked in the press and hunted by gangs acting on behalf of police.
The diocese of Vinh is concerned for his safety because thugs have been roaming the streets calling for his death. But he is nowhere to be found.
A parishioner, Nguyen Cong Ly, who lent his home for liturgical services, was arrested on Tuesday and released yesterday. Fearing for his safety he fled Dong Hoi (where he lives) for Quang Trach, but was brought back by police last night and placed under house arrest.
Newspapers, which are under government control, have made false accusations against Fr Le Thanh Hong. For instance Saigon Liberated has accused the priest of unlawfully exercising his ministry. It quoted the deputy chairman of the People’s Committee of Dong Hoi City, Mr Bui Xuan Ngau, who said that “the city has not granted license for any Catholic parish in the area”. At least 3,000 Catholics live in the Dong Hoi area.
The paper reported that “the People’s Committee of Dong Hoi city has done enough favours for the Catholics in the area by allowing worship services at the house of Mr Tran Cong Ly (the paper got the surname wrong; it should be Nguyen Cong Ly) [. . .] on condition that no more than 70 people can attend each service.”
“For years, Le Thanh Hong (the parish priest) has trampled on the laws of the country by celebrating Mass exceeding his quota. He has lured hundreds of people from other places into the area to attend his Sunday Mass,” the state-owned paper said.
“Apart from saying Mass illegally, and violating the laws blatantly, he has also distorted the truth and put on the Internet distorted statements,” Saigon Liberated added. For this reason the paper wants the authorities to arrest him and hand him a lengthy sentence.
According to information obtained by AsiaNews, Fr Le Thanh Hong does not know how to use a computer or the internet.