Vietnamese state media reports targeting Catholics who are demonstrating for the return of confiscated church properties have been exposed for inventing false Catholic critics of the protesters. The media have attributed manufactured quotations to actual Catholics and have presented a beggar as a critical Catholic parishioner. They have even gone so far as to name a man who has been dead for several years as a detractor.
Judge Vu Kim My, a Catholic prosecutor in the Diocese of Phat Diem, accused a September 15 article in the People’s Police newspaper of putting words in his mouth about the Thai Ha Church property dispute.
“I confirm that I never said anything relating to Thai Ha, I never asked for the punishment [against the protestors], I did not mention God in my answers,” he said.
Judge Vu claimed that the newspaper reporter only asked him two questions, both of which related to general knowledge of the law.
“The rest of the report was added by them,” he charged.
A falsehood in an August 20 article in the New Hanoi newspaper has also been exposed. The paper reported that Nguyen Quoc Cuong of Dai On parish accused the protestors at Thai Ha Church of “not following the Catholic Catechism.”
The Archdiocese of Hanoi made inquiries about the supposed parishioner, only to discover that he was invented by the newspaper.
“He simply does not exist in our parish,” a parish council member of Dai On parish said.
The New Hanoi newspaper also introduced Nguyen Duc Thang as a parishioner of Thach Bich parish, depicting him as a dissident strongly opposed to the Catholic protests.
“Yes, he was a Catholic in my parish,” said Fr. Nguyen Khac Que, the pastor of Thach Bich.
The priest added: “he already died a few years ago. I have no idea how a dead person could answer an interview of the paper.”
Such incidents only add to the series of deceptive reports on the demonstrations.
On September 4 at Thai Ha Monastery, cameramen from Hanoi Television interviewed an elderly person who was introduced as a Catholic. When demonstrators asked him his Christian name, he admitted he was a beggar and said the cameramen “had given me some money to act and speak as instructed.”
The Voice of Vietnam, the state’s official radio network, reported that Father Nguyen Van Khanh who is the pastor of Gia Nghia parish (Lam Dong province) opposed the Thai Ha protests and praised the land policy of the government. When contacted by church authorities in the Diocese of Dalat, he insisted that no one had interviewed him.
The deception of the state-controlled media led Father Anthony Pham Anh Dung, the vice chancellor of the Archdiocese of Hanoi, to read a communiqué at every Sunday Mass warning priests and the faithful about the tricks the state media uses “in order to make up fake scenarios to distort and deceive the public opinion.”
The communiqué asked all priests and laity to be “smart and vigilant should they be contacted by state media,” while calling for prayers for writers and other media personnel.
“May they know how to respect every one, and have the courage to act according to their conscience,” he said, suggesting that the communiqué be read at every Sunday Mass throughout the archdiocese.
In many dioceses, Fr. An Dang tells CNA that the faithful gather around the display cases where church bulletins are posted to see images and articles on the events in Hanoi misleadingly covered by the highly controlled national media.
“People have been warned not to read articles from CNA and other Catholic News Agencies,” Fr. An Dang writes. However, the threats have had the opposite effect intended by the authorities and copies of the articles are in high demand. They have been translated into Vietnamese, and then printed to post on the church bulletin boards, or photocopied to circulate.