Rep. Smith urges President Obama to help persecuted Catholics in Vietnam

The Redemptorists in Ho Chi Minh City
The Redemptorists in Ho Chi Minh City

.- As violence against Catholics by the Vietnamese government continues, Rep. Chris Smith appealed to President Obama  for a resolution designating Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC).

Beatings, Church raids, arrests – and even deaths –  are some of the violent incidents inflicted on Catholics by authorities in Vietnam over increased conflict on property rights. Throughout the last several decades, in provinces throughout the country, tensions have mounted between the Communist government and local parishioners as officials have repeatedly attempted to claim land where Catholic churches and facilities are situated.

One of the latest violent outbreaks involved a funeral procession earlier this year, where government agents clashed with 500 Catholics and at the parish cemetery of Con Dau. Police arrested 59 people as part of the incident.

On May 4, Catholics had conducted a funeral procession for an 82-year-old woman and tried to bury her in the cemetery, which had been seized by the local government to build a tourist resort.

Police broke up the procession, “beating over 100 mourners, arresting dozens and deliberately beating two pregnant women so as to kill their unborn babies,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said in a Dec. 15 congressional hearing.

Rep. Smith said a pall bearer at the funeral by the name of Nam Nguyen was later kicked and bludgeoned to death by police in July while his wife knelt in front of the them, begging them to stop.

“The reign of terror on this 85 year-old Catholic community continues to this day,” he said, “and shows no sign of abating.”

Vietnam journalist Joseph An Dang provided CNA with a report on how police recently raided the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ho Chi Minh city, belonging to the Redemptorist order.

On Dec. 8, local officials interrupted scheduled liturgical celebrations and ongoing Christmas preparations. Fr. Vincent Pham Trung Thanh, the provincial superior, was taken in for questioning where the Redemptorists were accused of preaching anti-government sentiment, instigating disorder, inciting riots and violating social media codes.

The government has allegedly threatened more raids in days to come.

Rep. Smith said in his remarks to Congress that although Vietnam was listed as a CPC in 2004 and 2005 – with demonstrable progress for Catholics in the area – the country has since been removed. He claimed that the Vietnam government promising concrete actions as well as a major trade agreement with the U.S. led to Vietnam being taken off of the CPC list.

After this, he said, many “religious believers who expected a thaw and reform and openness were arrested or rearrested and sent to prison.”

He added that the CPC – and the penalties described by the International Religious Freedom Act – has in the past and “can be again a useful tool in performing reform in Vietnam.”

“Congress, the president, and all those who espouse fundamental human rights ought to be outraged at Vietnams's turn for the worse,” he added. “We should stand with the oppressed, not the oppressor.”

“President Obama should re-designate Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern for its egregious violations of religious freedom.” 


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