Friday, September 26, 2008


Date: Friday 26 September 2008
Subj: Vietnam: Govt belligerence escalates against Hanoi Catholics.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

Twelve months ago the world's media was transfixed by the sight of thousands of courageous, marching, anti-junta Buddhist monks in Rangoon, Burma. It has been both astounding therefore and sad that the largest public demonstrations to occur in Vietnam since the Communists took power have attracted only the most minimal attention. But the Hanoi demonstrations, which are taking the form of mass prayer vigils attended by candle, cross and flower-holding, singing, praying Catholics, are immensely significant. So WEA RLC will be following the situation, which is escalating week by week.

This posting updates the posting of 16 September 2008 entitled –
"Vietnam: Prayer vigils push government to breaking point."

As previously reported: "The prayer vigils are pushing the government to breaking point. But will they result in a breakthrough in Church-State relations, or an escalation in violent repression?

"The situation is not looking good. The government appears to be closing the door on dialogue, police are being deployed and the State-run media are describing the main prayer vigil in Thai Ha as an 'organisational crime' plotted by 'hostile forces' against the communist government."



VietCatholic News Agency reports: "Eight months after promising to restore Church ownership of a building that once housed the office of the apostolic nuncio in Hanoi, Vietnamese authorities have suddenly begun demolishing the building, provoking the outrage of Catholic protesters and drawing a heated protest from the city's archbishop.

"Very early [4 am] on Friday morning, 19 September, hundreds of police assembled in front of the archbishop's residence in Hanoi, blocking access to the residence, the cathedral, and all roads leading to the nearby nunciature. Dozens of bulldozers moved into the area and began digging out the lawn of the nunciature. At 6 am, after police and demolition workers were in place, state-controlled television and radio broadcasts announced that the government had decided to demolish the building, to convert the land into a public playground." (Full report: link 1)

The betrayal and the demolition carry an implied threat: "This is what happens when you push us too far!"


-- largest public demonstrations since Communists came to power.

VietCatholic News Agency reports (with great photos): "The Sunday [21 Sep] morning protest of Catholics on the streets of Hanoi was probably the largest so far after the Communist takeover in 1954. A bishop and hundreds of priests led more than ten thousand of protesters praying at the nunciature before an open altar set up at the middle of the street." (Link 2)

While police turned back many busloads of worshippers, an estimated 10,000 managed to make it to the site where they braved the rain, heavy police presence, attack dogs and barbed wire to pray for justice and worship the Lord as the bells of St Joseph's Cathedral next door chimed intermittently.

Some 5,000 candle-bearing Catholics also turned out at the former nunciature on the Saturday night. "A student from Hanoi university said: 'I was here last night with at least 5,000 people. I prayed with them until very late. I had just gone home to take a sleep then return here with people. We were very upset with the way this government handle the issue.'

"'My hope [for the return of the nunciature] is gone, but my belief in God is unshaken,' said Phuong Nguyen, another girl at early twenties. 'Last February, we halted the protests out of the trust in them. However, they managed to delay returning the property through various bureaucratic manoeuvres. Then, all in a sudden, they announced to demolish for a playground and immediately carried out their plan with the support of their armed forces. How can we still trust them?' she asked." (Link 2)


Associated Press journalist Ben Stocking was covering the story at the former nunciature on Friday morning 19 September when he was violently assaulted by police and temporarily detained. "He [Stocking] reported that he had been choked, punched and bashed with his own camera -- the last assault opening a cut in his scalp that bled profusely. After his 2 1/2 hours in detention, he immediately had to seek treatment at a private clinic for the head injury." (Link 3)

The Vietnamese authorities however deny that Stocking was beaten and maintain that he was arrested for breaking the law. Eye witnesses (including an unknown person who filmed Stocking's removal and posted it on YouTube) maintain that Stocking was openly standing beside police and taking photos without any problems. He offered no resistance when asked to move away, but was later put into a chokehold and beaten. On Monday 22 September Stocking was summoned to the foreign ministry where he was issued a warning. Vietnamese media reported that the ministry was contemplating further action, particularly against Stocking's "slander" that security forces had beaten him. (Link 4)


On Tuesday 23 September Ben Stocking reported from Hanoi: "Communist authorities in Hanoi have threatened to take legal action against the city's archbishop unless he immediately disbands illegal prayer vigils to demand the return of former church lands, state media reported Monday.

"The government campaign against Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet escalated over the weekend, with state television calling into question his patriotism in an apparent attempt to turn public opinion against him." (Link 5)

According to State-run media: "The Hanoi People's Committee's communique accuses Kiet of directly inciting and encouraging violations of land-related laws." Furthermore, the authorities claim Hanoians will support the disciplining of the Archbishop. (Link 6)

However, as Stocking reports, the threats extend beyond the Archbishop. Four priests involved in the prayer vigils at the Thai Ha site also received official warnings. The BBC reports: "The archbishop and priests are accused of 'stirring the population' and encouraging illegal religious activity." (Link 7)

According to State-run media, the priests have "organised illegal religious activities on the occupied land, disturbing security, and social order in the area. For those acts, the Hanoi Mayor issues a warning against Vu Khoi Phung, the priest in charge of the Thai Ha parish and three priests, including Nguyen Van Khai, Nguyen Van That and Nguyen Ngoc Nam Phong and demands them immediately stop those law violations, otherwise, they will be treated in line with the law." (Link 8)

The priests have been ordered to remove religious symbols from the site and stop disseminating false information and holding illegal gatherings. The authorities have ordered the crowds to "refrain from extremist actions".


In the past week the two main prayer vigil sites -- the Thai Ha Redemptorist monastery and the former nunciature -- have both been attacked by large gangs of pro-government vigilantes. The gangs dress in the blue shirts of the Youth Communist League.

On Friday 19 September at around 1 am a pro-government gang attacked the Thai Ha chapel, ransacking the altar and vandalising church property. Then at around 11.20 pm on Sunday 21 September a 200-strong gang surrounded the monastery and attempted to gain access, smashing everything in their way. "In what one priest called a 'sort of terrorism' against the Catholic faithful, the gang ransacked the building, destroying statues and books while shouting threats against the lives of clergy and religious, Catholic faithful, and the Archbishop of Hanoi." (Link 9)

In each case, the police did not intervene.

Then at 4 pm on Thursday 25 September a gang attacked the former nunciature. "Hundreds of Catholic protesters seeking the return of a former papal nunciature confiscated by the communist government were attacked on Thursday afternoon in a confrontation with youths, military veterans, and members of other communist associations.

"The pro-government gang chased protesters from the area and then gathered at the gate of the Archbishop of Hanoi's office, yelling communist slogans and calling for the head of the archbishop, whom they accused of treason." (Link 10)

According to VietCatholic News Agency the militants, who far outnumbered the Catholic protesters, were delivered to the site by State-owned buses. While the priests took cover in the church offices, the police watched as the mob destroyed the cross that worshippers had erected at the site in January. According to reports, some police even joined in the anti-Catholic rampage. (Link 11)


It has also been reported that the People's Committee of Thanh Oai district has ordered school teachers to monitor their students to see who is attending the prayer vigils at the Thai Ha site. VietCatholic News Agency reports that teachers "can be seen in Thai Ha everyday looking for their students, forcing them to go home, and threatening them with severe punishments including expulsion from the school.

"Most teachers feel reluctant to become persecutors against their students. But, some seem to see it a perfect chance to carry out their anti-Catholicism ideology. Two year 7 Catholic students from Thach Bich, known as Huong and Quynh, told their parents they were forced by their teachers to stand in front of their classmates to be mocked. The 'humiliation session' had dragged for hours until the two 11-year-old children promised not to go to the church again.

"Teachers in Bich Hoa high school, out of the fear of losing their promotion and pay rise, asked all Catholic students to pledge in writing not to follow their parents to Thai Ha. In addition, non-Catholic students were ordered to report the presence of their Catholic classmates at the site.

"Catholic students from Hanoi universities face even more threats. 'We have been repeatedly warned not to go to Thai Ha. We face expulsion and arrest for joining protesters,' said an architect student, who has requested anonymity for his own safety. 'We just come here to pray. We do nothing wrong. We have no weapons and no political ambition. Why they fear us?' he asked." (Link 12)

By Elizabeth Kendal


1) Tensions boil over in Hanoi as government betrays promise, destroys nunciature.
19 Sep 2008 .
Hanoi Archbishop protests government's expropriation and destruction of former nunciature. 19Sept2008
BBC. Bulldozers stoke Hanoi land clash
By Nga Pham, 19 Sep 2008

2) Huge protest on Sunday morning at the nunciature. 21 Sept2008

3) Vietnam alleges beaten AP photographer broke law. 19 Sep 2008

4) Vietnam summons US journalist over protest coverage. 23 Sep 2008

5) Hanoi: Church must end vigils or face legal action
Ben Stocking in Hanoi, 23 Sep 2008

6) Hanoi archbishop told to desist from further law violations
Hanoi City has issued a written warning to Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet of the Hanoi Archdiocese asking him to refrain from disseminating false information and inciting priests and people to take part in illegal activities.
Hanoians in support of disciplining Archbishop. 24 Sep 2008
Voters have agreed with a decision made by the Hanoi People's Committee to discipline municipal Church Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet and several other priests in line with national law.

7) Vietnam warns priests over land
By Nga Pham, BBC News, 23 Sep 2008

8) Hanoi warns Thai Ha priests for law breaches. 23 Sep 2008

9) Vietnamese gang ransacks Catholic chapel as police stand by. 22 Sep 2008

10) Pro-government mob attacks Catholic demonstrators in Hanoi. 25 Sep 2008

11) Communist gang attack Hanoi archbishop's office. 25 Sep 2008

12) Vietnam: Catholic students mocked at school. 18 Sep 2008