The government of Vietnam is seeking legal action against the Archbishop of Hanoi following Catholic prayer vigils and protests seeking the return of church lands confiscated after the communist takeover.
The police newspaper Capital Security on Tuesday reported that the Vietnamese government is conducting legal investigations of Archbishop Joseph Ngô and several other clergymen. The government accuses them of abusing their power to incite their followers to confront the government. In these confrontations, the government alleges, state-owned property was destroyed and public officials were attacked.
Church leaders in Hanoi believe the investigations are an attempt to intimidate individuals, following the failure of the government to intimidate Catholics as a whole.
Thousands of Vietnamese Catholics have gathered at the gate of the former residence of the papal nuncio in Hanoi since December 18. They have demanded the return of the property, which was confiscated in 1959 and is now planned to become a restaurant and nightclub.
The government’s allegations against the demonstrators result from an incident on January 25 in which protestors scuffled with police and threw away commercial billboards that were posted on the fence of the former nunciature, after police beat two of the protestors.
One cleric said the government was “trying to turn crime victims into criminals.”
Father Joseph Nguyen, a witness of the January 25 incident, called the government press coverage a “shameful distortion of the facts,” according to VietCatholic News.
Father Nguyen said that during the demonstration a Hmong woman had climbed over a gate to place flowers on a statue of the Virgin Mary inside the building.
Discovered by security personnel, the woman was chased around the garden of the building. “Disregarding the woman's explanations for her venturing into the building, the guards kicked and slapped her severely. In the witness of more than 2,000 Catholics, a security commander even loudly ordered his subordinates to beat to death the woman,” Father Nguyen said.
A man at the prayer vigil intervened, but he too was beaten. Protestors then broke through the gate to rescue the two and scuffled with security personnel.
One prelate described the crowd’s motivation, saying, “the guards could not attack the woman brutally like that.”