Authorities attack Catholics in Lộc Hưng, tear down nativity scene

The faithful try to defend the sacred representation but three end up detained for inciting a “mass gathering to disrupt social order". In January, the local government deployed security forces and bulldozers to tear down local housing to seize land.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – Plainclothes police and hooligans have violated once again the religious freedom of Catholic victims of forced seizures in Vườn Rau Lộc Hưng (Lộc Htong vegetable garden), Ho Chi Minh City, by arresting them and using force to prevent them from setting up nativity scene.

The area, which is part of Lộc Hưng parish, is located in the 6th ward of Tân Bình district. It was the home and source of livelihood for many families and people who had fled Communist North Vietnam following the country’s partition in 1954.

Most of the residents are poor families, students, former prisoners of conscience and veterans of the South Vietnamese army. On 1 and 4 January 2019, local authorities deployed security forces in large numbers and bulldozers to tear down their homes to seize the land.

Despite the extreme poverty in which they have lived since then, every evening at 7 pm local Catholics pray the Rosary with devotion at the statue of the Virgin Mary situated in front of the Lộc Hưng garden.

The latest incident occurred on Sunday morning, solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. A group of faithful was busy setting up a nativity scene, when local authorities intervened with plainclothes agents accompanied by hooligans to prevent it.

Around 9 am, officials tore down the wooden platform on which the sacred representation was supposed to be placed. Residents tried to stop them, invoking the right to religious freedom.

The faithful in Lộc Hưng did not lose heart and started over in the afternoon, posting a message describing the event on social media. The authorities moved back in to stop them again. In the confrontation (video), police removed the statues of Mary and Joseph.

Residents stood their ground again and police took three people into custody: Cao Thị Thu, Phạm Trung Hiếu and Phạm Duy Quang, who were released (pictured) only late in the evening, around 10 pm.

"Yesterday's suppression was so brutal,” Phạm Duy Quang told Radio Free Asia the next day. “By 3:30 pm, we had gathered to pray and prepare to set up the nativity scene,” he explained.

“After praying, a large force consisting of various Ward 6 agencies showed up to destroy [it],” he said. “They beat us, drove [us] into corners,” adding that he and the others were accused of inciting a ‘mass gathering to disrupt social order’.

Cao said that she was physically assaulted by officials prior to her arrest. “We only gathered there to protect the nativity scene,” she said. “I am 58 years old and I have really weak hearing. But I was beaten in the face and trampled [upon].”

“I felt a brick from somewhere hit my foot. It was so painful so I picked up the brick and threw it away and began to flee. That’s when they arrested me and accused me of throwing the brick [at them] which is an administrative violation,” she noted.

She went on to say that police asked her to go to jail or pay 750,000 dong (US .35) fine, but she refused. “I replied ‘Absolutely not, I won’t pay even or you detain me, so I signed the report without any fear,” she said.