12/08/2008, 00.00
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Thai Ha trial: thousands of Catholics protest against police

by J.B. An Dang
The demonstration took place today, outside of the courthouse where a trial was held against eight faithful of the parish of Thai Ha, accused of "disorder" and "damage of state property." Thousands of policemen tried to contain the crowd and to break up the marches, services, and nighttime vigils. Seven of the accused have been sentenced to 12-15 months in prison.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Thousands of Catholics gathered at the Hanoi Redemptorist monastery at 5.00 a.m. local time on Monday, to attend a special Mass praying for their eight brothers and sisters who would be tried in a couple of hours for what the Vietnamese government described as “damaging state property and disorderly conduct in public.” In reality, the eight Catholics only participated in the prayer vigils organized by the parish of Thai Ha, to obtain the restitution of church property illegally confiscated by the city government.

After the Mass, over two thousand parishioners went in procession behind the defendants and Redemptorists, to the office of People’s Committee of O Cho Dua precinct where the trial was held. Holding palm leaves, they sang the Rosary along the roads of about two kilometres to the destination. For Vietnamese Catholics who have suffered a long history of persecution, palm leaves have a deep meaning. They express the belief that those who are persecuted for the faith will enter gloriously into the heavenly Jerusalem.The protesters walking along the sidewalks received warm applause and cheers from people who were driving to work and from those who were having breakfast in restaurants.

Protesters reached the courthouse at 7 o’clock, where they were confronted by hundreds of policemen, armed with stun guns and trained dogs, who were trying to block access to the courthouse from a far distance. The Redemptorists and their faithful argued peacefully with the police that the trial was public and they had a right to go in. However, some police started attacking them with stun guns. In the chaos, about 700 protesters managed to escape police barriers. They ran further to the front of the courthouse, where they organized a sit-in protest in front of foreign journalists and representatives of Western embassies. Over two thousand protesters had to stay far away from the court house. They also organized a sit-in protest, with banners denouncing the “disgraceful injustice” and “open persecution”.

Large numbers of security police, in uniform and in plain clothes, were on the site, surrounding the protesters and mingling in their ranks, taking photos and filming with video cameras in an obvious intimidation tactic. The Vietnamese government has shown a great deal of effort to ensure that the result of this infamous trial would be in their favor, by taking extreme but carefully orchestrated measures days before its start. The candlelight vigil being held on Saturday night for the eight defendants - two of whom have been detained indefinitely since their arrest - was viewed as such a threat for the state that hundreds of plainclothed policemen were deployed until the Sunday morning Mass at Thai Ha, causing disturbances, as well as imposing serious threats at potential audiences at the trial. At the end of today’s morning session of the trial, the eight parishioners pleaded not guilty, challenging the government to prove that the property was seized legally by the law of Vietnam itself.

Despite the fact that the prosecutors failed to prove the eight parishioners guilty, at the end, the court gave various guilty verdicts of suspended jail term from 12 to 15 months for seven of them. One of them received a warning.

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See also
False priests appear on Hanoi media to discredit Catholics
Thái Hà faithful in procession to ask for return of parish land
After 31 years Thai Binh seminary to reopen
Thousands of Catholics at prayer vigil in Ho Chi Minh City
Police raid Redemptorists in Hanoi


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