08/24/2012, 00.00
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More violations of religious freedom by local Vietnamese authorities

by Paul. N. Hung
Protected by atheist leaders and a legislative void, local political leaders pursue their own religious policies that go against national policies. In Hanoi, the city is trying again to seize land owned by the Sisters of Saint Paul, including the hospital.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Although Catholics and the office of the bishop of Hanoi were able to stop the City of Hanoi in the past, they are facing once against an attempt by the leaders of the Vietnamese capital to seize illegally Church property, like the land and buildings owned by the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Paul, which include St Paul Hospital (pictured), in order to make huge profits.

This is not the only expression of a methodically anti-religious policy pursued by various local authorities, even in violation of Vietnamese laws. Bishop Paul, president of the Justice and Peace Committee of the Vietnam Bishops' Council referred to them as "persecution" and a "violation of Vietnam's religious policy".

Harassment by local authorities is rooted in government regulations, more precisely Decree 38/2005/NĐ-CP, which restricts religious functions to places of worship and requires government authorisation for any public meeting of five people or more.

Against this legal background, Catholics can be easily charged of violating the law even when they hold a function at home or at a neighbour's house. Whether they are charged or not is at the discretion of local authorities who hold power over religion.

The decree does not address the issue of religious buildings and their construction. This too is an instrument for control and persecution. Thus, when, as the decree says, people "aspire and have a need for faith and religion" but do not have a church and meet in a private home to pray, they can be attacked without hesitation, they can be threatened and even beaten by thugs and government officials convinced that they have the law on their side.

This is what happened in Thái Hà, Cồn Dầu and Con Cuông, in the dioceses of Vinh and Hanoi, where violence was openly used against priests and worshippers, and where religious images and symbols were destroyed.

The same is now happening in Con Cuông District, Nghệ An province. The member of a local parish said that local authorities "are methodically suppressing religion. Beside the central government's religious policy, they have religious policies that go against national policies."

According to local Catholic media, the reason local authorities feel they can act provocatively is the fact that "they feel protected by their atheist leaders and the lack of laws, so that they can legally violate the law."

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