Vietnamese officials arrested and beat a group of Catholics for attempting to peacefully attend a trial of prominent lawyer and human rights activist Cu Huy Ha Vu on April 4.
“At least 29 Catholics were arrested at 8 a.m. on Monday morning when they were on their way to the courthouse to observe the proceedings,” read a statement issued by the Catholic Youth Association of Vinh.
Eyewitnesses told VietCatholic News that shortly before the arrests, the 29 were closely followed by local police who monitored their cell phone use and eventually used physical force to apprehend them. Bystanders who tried to help were repeatedly beaten and forced to let go of the victims.
The local Catholics were attempting to show support for 53 year-old Cu Huy Ha Vu – a well known Vietnamese legal scholar and human rights campaigner – who was due in court on Monday in Hanoi.
Vu, who has called for multiparty democracy in the country, has been in prison since November and is being held on a charge of “maligning party and state institutions and policies” with anti-state propaganda. According to the government, the charges stem from critical articles he’s posted online.
Although Vu continues to gain widespread support among citizens, he faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted.
Local Catholics have shown particular solidarity with the activist for his public defense of parishioners, and churches have organized prayer vigils and expressed gratitude to Vu's wife.
The legal scholar is one of dozens of Vietnamese lawyers and activists who have been imprisoned throughout the last five years for challenging the government.
Among them was Le Quoc Quan, a Catholic lawyer who had recently filled out his application to run for Congress. Another prominent Catholic, reporter JB Nguyen Huu Vinh, was summoned for interrogation after his article on police brutality against innocent people was published on a Catholic website. Vinh was also severely beaten at the Dong Chiem parish during a police crackdown last year.
The recent beatings of the 29 in Hanoi join a string of human rights abuses involving Vietnamese police using violence against the country's inhabitants.
In January, the U.S. State Department lodged a sharp protest with the Vietnamese government after an American diplomat was beaten for attempting to visit an ailing Catholic priest who was under house arrest.
U.S. leaders such as Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) have urged the Obama administration to reinstate Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern.
“Congress, the president, and all those who espouse fundamental human rights ought to be outraged at Vietnam's turn for the worse,” Rep. Smith said in a December 2010 hearing. “We should stand with the oppressed, not the oppressor.”