Catholics from 178 parishes of the Diocese of Vinh held another massive protest on Sunday, demanding an end to overt persecution against Catholics in Dong Hoi. They also demanded the return of Church and individual properties illegally seized by police and an immediate halt to the ongoing propaganda and defamation campaign in the state media.
The protesters carried banners denouncing the government of Dong Hoi’s violence against priests, religious and lay Catholics. According to VietCatholic News, they marched with “sheer determination”
on the streets.
Other dioceses throughout Vietnam simultaneously observed moments of silence in a show of solidarity and prayer for victims of police and government-backed gangs. They also prayed for the safety of Catholics in Dong Hoi.
In front of the bishop’s office in the Diocese of Vinh, an estimated 10,000 Catholics joined together in protest.
Fr. Peter Nguyen Van Khai told VietCatholic News that protesters came to show how outraged they were by news of Catholic families who had been beaten and robbed by government thugs.
They came to convey the message that “enough is enough” to what the priest called “the source of the problem, the mishandling of the government.”
“A typical, regrettable example was Mr. Peter Mai Van Truong, 48, and his wife ... were beaten to half-death, and all his properties including necessary means to earn a living were confiscated without a warrant,” Fr. Peter Nguyen Van Khai reported.
According to reports, the story of the couple’s brutal attack has become symbolic of a “harsh reality” that Catholics and other citizens face at the hands of the government.
On July 27, Truong and his wife were traveling from Ky Anh Province to Dong Hoi to visit his brothers and
sisters at Tam Toa Catholic Parish. On the way, they were ambushed by government-backed gangs.
Having recognized them as Catholics, the gang beat them savagely and took away Truong’s motorbike, his driver license and other documents as well as his money and a camera from a friend valued at about $500,” the priest said, adding that the attack happened in broad daylight as uniformed police officers looked on and did nothing.
“Passersby took me to a hospital where I was beaten savagely the second time as the gang took me for a priest,” Truong said from his bed at Cua Lo Hospital.
“He has escaped death, but with broken ribs and head injuries his condition remains very serious,” Fr. Peter Nguyen continued, asking for fervent prayers from Catholics in Vietnam and abroad.
Sr. Emily Nguyen reported from Vinh that the situation in Dong Hoi might “spin out of control” because the local government continues to use “hired thugs” and “disaffected youth” to attack Catholics. Further, state media spread negative images of Catholics while distorting the truth, defaming religion and promoting hatred between Catholics and non-Catholics.
“People start shouting out short slogans such as ‘blood shed’ and ‘martyrdom’ as a response to the chanting of thousands of thugs on the streets: ‘Kill them all!’, ‘Kill their priests,’ using profane and violent language. It’s extremely volatile,” she warned.
The chief secretary of the Diocese of Vinh, Fr. Anthony Pham Dinh Phung, issued a July 31 statement on behalf of the diocese, demanding the immediate release of other Catholics who are still behind bars.
“The Church tries its best to calm down its faithful,” he wrote, warning that the government must “take responsibility should the persecution keep going.”
According to VietCatholic News, the government seems unready for peaceful dialogue. On Sunday night state television broadcast a report on the clash at Tam Toa Church with very negative coverage of the Church and the Diocese of Vinh.
Catholics in Dong Hoi claim that the local government has instigated hatred against Catholics near the church of Tam Toa through false reports that the Church has demanded not only the ground of the confiscated church building, but also all lots of the surrounding land, including lots on which non-Catholics have built their houses.