.- Vietnamese state media have “fiercely attacked” two Redemptorist priests, accusing them of critically damaging national unity and blocking the national construction and development process. In what some see as a preparation for a government crackdown, the media are accusing the priests of the capital crime of plotting to overthrow the Communist regime. The tactic is commonly practiced to target opponents whose leadership among ordinary citizens is perceived as a threat to the current regime, Fr. J.B. An Dang tells CNA.
While property ownership disputes between the Catholic Church and the Vietnamese Government have caused tension in recent years, the controversy has expanded to include the government’s bauxite mining plans.
On Sunday the New Hanoi newspaper, run by the Party Committee of Hanoi City, began journalistic attacks against Thai Ha Church. The newspaper took aim at Fr. Peter Nguyen Van Khai, spokesman of Thai Ha Redemptorist Monastery.
The paper denounced him for “instigating parishioners in order to cause divisions, inciting riots, falsely accusing the government, disrespecting the nation, breaking and ridiculing the law and instigating others to violate it.”
The priest was also criticized for organizing a candlelight prayer vigil on Saturday night to protest a construction project at a lakeside which belonged to Thai Ha parish.
Soon after Easter, the local government suddenly began a construction project at the 4.5 acre site surrounding Lake Ba Giang. The property has been legally owned and managed by Thai Ha parish.
The construction caused much anxiety and distress among the priests and parishioners of Thai Ha. The faithful objected to the construction, asking for an immediate suspension of the project and a legal process to resolve the issue peacefully.
Before the candlelight vigil, police repeatedly sent “urgent summoning orders” to Thai Ha Monastery asking Fr. Nguyen to be present at Hanoi Criminal Investigation Department for the “clarification of a number of documents.”
The action was seen as a threatening tactic designed to destroy the vigil, Fr. An Dang tells CNA.
On Monday the Capital Security Newspaper joined the New Hanoi in its attacks on Fr. Nguyen, claiming he taught false Church doctrine to incite violence against the government.
Fr. Joseph Le Quang Uy, another Redemptorist priest in Saigon, was then attacked by the New Hanoi because he had openly criticized bauxite mining plans. The priest set up a web site asking Catholics in Vietnam and abroad to sign an electronic petition which called for an immediate suspension of the mining in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
The New Hanoi accused Fr. Joseph Le of “stupidity,” “ignorance,” causing critical damage to national unity, and plotting to overthrow the communist regime.
The paper called for the government to apply “immediate and severe punishment” against the two priests “before they go too far.”
Such allegations, especially the accusation of plotting to overthrow the government, were so severe that “many have believed that Vietnam government has been preparing public opinions for an imminent crackdown,” Fr. An Dang writes.
At the candlelight vigil by Lake Ba Giang, Catholics prayed for the government and expressed their opposition to the bauxite mining. Protesters signed a petition against the plans, which the Vietnamese prime minister called “a major policy for the state and the [Communist] party.”
Critics of the government’s bauxite mining plans include a diverse coalition of scientists, intellectuals, former officials and other Vietnamese at home and abroad. Opponents charged that any economic benefit would be outweighed by detrimental long-term environmental and social damage from the operations.
Over 50 scientists have said the plans would cause irreversible environmental damage in the nearly 700 square miles set aside for mining and processing.
A dissident Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Do, has said the mining would destroy the way of life of the region’s ethnic minorities. His view was highly regarded and his call for action was widely supported by many citizens.