Men in plain clothes and armed with pistols, batons, and pepper spray descended on a Catholic church in southeast Vietnam’s Dong Nai province on Monday to confront the parish priest over a Facebook post the priest had made urging political reform in the one-party communist state.
The assault, in which the church’s attackers arrived by bus, took place at about 10:00 a.m. on Sept. 4 at the Tho Hoa parish church in the Xuan Tho commune in the province’s Xuan Loc district, parish priest Nguyen Duy Tan wrote later on his Facebook page.
Tan identified at least one of the harassing group as a member of a local pro-government activist group, Tan told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Sept. 5.
“I recognized Nguyen Trong Nghia of the Red Flags group,” Tan said, adding that he saw other signs of support for the group from local police and other authorities.
“Commune security kept inviting them back to their office, and district security officers behaved the same way, refusing to do any work at the scene. They wouldn’t note down the registration numbers of the guns or count how many bullets they had,” he said.
Tan told RFA he declined to press charges with police against the group because “they are all on the same side, the side of the Communist Party.”
“There would have been no point in pushing for prosecution,” he said.
Writing on Facebook, Tan said that he had locked the church gate when the group arrived, and had rung the church’s bell to alert parishioners in the neighborhood to come to help.
Parishioners then briefly held 13 of the invading group, who identified themselves as Catholics and wrote in a statement of “confession” that they were angry at Tan because he had wanted to “overthrow the Communist Party and government of Vietnam” and had used insulting words against Party founder Ho Chi Minh.
A 'complicated case'
District police deputy chief Nguyen Thanh Loi complimented the parish on their handling of the situation, describing the case as “complicated,” and promising to report later to the parish on how it would be resolved, Tan wrote on his Facebook page.
Speaking to RFA, Tan said that the group had objected to his proposal, shared on Facebook, that the Communist Party be dissolved. He added that authorities themselves should take action if he had broken the law, though, and that private groups should not become involved.
Netizens contacted by RFA said that though Father Tan had declined to press charges, Xuan Loc authorities should still treat the matter as a criminal case and prosecute the members of the harassing group.
Nguyen Van Hau, vice president of the Lawyers Association of Ho Chi Minh City, told RFA that group members could be tried, if authorities agreed, on charges of disturbing public order under Article 245 of Vietnam’s penal code.
The use of guns by unauthorized persons to threaten others is an especially serious offense, Hau added.
“[Vietnam’s] constitution makes it very clear that people’s physical safety is inviolable. This case should therefore be handled in accordance with the law,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Richard Finney.