Kontum bishop emeritus slams cybersecurity law as waves of arrests continue and Catholics take to the streets
by J.B. An Dang

Mgr Michael Hoàng Đức Oanh tells President Trần Đại Quang to respect the popular will in the name of social harmony. People carry Vatican flags and banners saying "No leasing land to Chinese communists for even one day” and “Cybersecurity law kills freedom”. Last week’s demonstrations ended with thousands of arrests across the country. Now the government threatens even greater repression.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Mgr Michael Hoàng Đức Oanh, bishop emeritus of Kontum, slammed President Trần Đại Quang for approving new restrictions on Internet use.

The prelate calls on the authorities to respect the will of the people and the rights of citizens, urging them to release protesters arrested in recent days.

Whilst large number of police have been deployed in the country’s main cities and provinces, thousands of Catholics (pictures) took part in peaceful demonstrations in Hà Tĩnh and Vinh (Central Vietnam) against the new cyber security law and new special administrative-economic units that for many represent a sell-out to China.

Mgr Hoàng Đức Oanh published a letter dated 16 June addressed to the Vietnamese president. In it, the prelate condemns the statements of some members of the government and urges a more moderate tone in order to promote social harmony and respect for the rights of citizens.

Commenting on what happened in the last days, the bishop says: "The purpose of the new cyber security law is to deceive people, that of the bill on special administrative and economic units is to sell the country to China.”

"On Sunday 10 June, when people expressed their opinions against the two laws, the government attacked them in a barbaric way instead of listening to them. Later, the authorities ordered mass arrests in Bình Thuận and elsewhere. People are still being arrested."

"I urge you, Mr Chairman, to release all those arrested, publish a new law on protests, as prescribed by the Constitution, and respect the popular will," the prelate wrote.

In a video posted online, the bishop emeritus also rebukes priests who sit in the National Assembly for voting in favour of the new cybersecurity legislation.

"These priests betray their faith and their country for the money and prestige bestowed on them by the communists", the prelate says.

The law, which will come into effect on 1st January 2019, has already caused a sharp decrease in visits to Catholic sites.

"Users have to reduce their activities on the Internet, for fear of prosecution," said Fr Paul Văn Chi, spokesman for the Federation of Vietnamese Catholic Mass Media. In a press release published a few days ago, he criticised the lack of adequate protection of privacy.

"The provisions of the cybersecurity law could make it easier for the government to identify and prosecute people for their peaceful online activities," the priest warns.

Fr Joseph Nguyễn, of the archdiocese of Hanoi, fears that from now on the faithful will rely more on Catholics and the Nation, a magazine financed by the state and controlled by the Communist Party.

"It seems to be rich in content. But beware, things have always been, are and will be distorted through the prism of communism. Do not be so naive as to think that the communists will fund Catholics to evangelise, "the priest told AsiaNews.

Founded in 1975 by the communist government, as part of its attempt to create a state church, the magazine is edited by Fr Phan Khắc Từ, a member of the Party and vice-president of the so-called "Committee for the Solidarity of Vietnamese Catholics", a body set up to split the Church from the Holy See.

Fr Từ has lived with a woman for decades and is the father of two children. Canon law forbids the clergy from holding public offices, except in exceptional circumstances and subject to approval by Church authorities.

In an open letter to Church leaders, many priests, including Fr Nguyễn Văn Lý, a dissident who spent 15 years in prison, reiterated that membership in the Communist Party is unlawful. The signatories of the letter therefore ask the bishops for disciplinary action against priests deemed guilty.

"They do not contribute to the improvement of the conditions in which the Church operates,” says Fr. Nguyễn. “They never raised their voices against repression and forced expropriation."

Furthermore, whilst violations of religious freedom increase in the country, like attacks on dissident priests, priests close to the Party have called for "harsher punishment towards their brothers and sisters in faith".

"Their presence in the government undermines the credibility of the Church and the effectiveness of her mission", the priest noted.

Meanwhile, videotaped by police cameras, yesterday thousands of Catholics marched through the streets of various cities praying the rosary. The demonstrators carried Vatican flags and banners that said "No leasing land to Chinese communists for even one day” and “Cybersecurity law kills freedom”.

The violent protests of last week ended with hundreds of arrests. Never in the history of Vietnam’s communist regime have there been so many arrests, especially in the South, where the repression of the government is greater.

In recent days, the government has promised to punish protesters, calling them "extremists". Three days ago, Nguyễn Thị Kim Ngân, speaker of the National Assembly, condemned the "abuses of democracy, distortions of truth, provocations and social disorder" by the defendants.

State media reported direct violent threats by police Major-Colonel Trần Anh Huy who promised to "blow the brains” of anyone who dares to take part in demonstrations against the cybersecurity law, passed last Tuesday.