.- Catholics who seek to recover government-confiscated land continued their demonstrations after the expiration of a Monday deadline set by a government ultimatum that threatened “extreme action” and demanded that the protests cease.
A standoff between demonstrators and police continues, CNA has learned. At last word from sources in Vietnam, hundreds of religious and lay people were gathered outside the compound praying when the ultimatum expired. Plain clothes and uniformed police officers could be seen resorting to previously used intimidation tactics involving photographing and videotaping the protesters.
Father J. B. An Dang, a Vietnamese priest, told CNA that the demonstrations have been taking place near the confiscated property, which consists of 15 acres of land purchased by the Redemptorist religious order in 1928. Most of the Redemptorists were jailed or deported after the Communist takeover in 1954, leaving a local priest in charge of the land.
Despite the pastor’s protests, local government authorities have seized the parish’s land one section at a time. The 15-acre plot has been reduced to about half an acre.
At the beginning of 2008, the government allowed construction to begin at the site for the Chien Thang sewing company. The confiscated property was then surrounded by a fence and guarded by security personnel.
Local Catholics began their protests in early January, leading prayer campaigns, demonstrations, and sit-ins at the site in an attempt to prevent any further construction work by the state-run company.
After three months of these protests, the People’s Committee of Dong Da District released a statement on April 6 warning the protesters that they are engaged in “illegal activities.” The statement threatened “extreme action” if demonstrations and sit-ins at land owned by the Redemptorist religious order were not halted by Monday. The statement also ordered the Hanoi Redemptorists to remove the cross and all statues of the Virgin Mary from the site, while all demonstrators were ordered to remove their camping tents.
One protestor argued with a local official that they had no other choice than “praying peacefully” to “attract the attention of the government on injustices they have suffered.”
“Their petitions have gone unanswered,” the protester said.
At the time of the deadline, hundreds of police came to the site, while the Redemptorists and their parishioners gathered more and more people at the demonstration.
Father Joseph Nguyen spoke from the site at 6 pm local time on Monday.
“At the moment,” he said, “hundreds [of] religious and lay people are praying. Large numbers of security police, in uniform and in plain-clothes, are on the site, surrounding the protesters and mingling in their ranks, taking photos and filming with video cameras. Despite all threatening acts from the government, more and more Catholics go to the site to pray, chant and sing. Some even sleep at the site to protect their cross and statues.”
In a message sent last January 7 to all the Redemptorists in the country, the provincial superior Fr. Joseph Cao Dinh Tri said the local government had illegally confiscated land belonging to their monastery at Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Hanoi, and is supporting the construction project there.
Father Cao said the Redemptorists in Hanoi have responded, asking the government to “respect justice and put peace into practice.”
“I would earnestly implore all of you, the whole province of Vietnam, to be in solidarity with our brother Redemptorists in Hanoi, in order to pray for our common apostolate," the priest said.
Other demonstrations by Vietnamese Catholics have sought the return of a confiscated Hanoi property that once belonged to the papal nuncio.