In one of the bloodiest religious crackdowns in recent years in Vietnam, police on Wednesday fired multiple gunshots and lobbed grenades in front of a church as they violently dispersed hundreds of Catholics demanding the release of two parishioners in a North Central Coast province, according to sources.
A unknown number of people were rushed to hospital with injuries after being beaten by police who also fired in the air in front of the My Yen church in Nghe An province as several hundred parishioners rallied for the release of the parishioners arrested for no valid reason two months ago, the sources said.
State television reported that about 300 people mobbed the Nghi Phuong village people's committee building in Nghi Loc district on Wednesday saying they would not budge until My Yen parishioners Ngo Van Khoi and Nguyen Van Hai are freed. A day earlier, about 1,000 people, some of them carrying large banners, had campaigned for the pair's release.
"They [police] fired 15 [gun] shots in front of the My Yen church. They beat some parishioners with electric batons," one parishioner told RFA's Vietnamese Service. "Some parishioners had to be hospitalized. They also arrested nine to 10 people."
Bloggers Nghiem Viet Anh and Bui Minh Hang shared a Vietnam Redemptorist Church news website showing several people receiving treatment for head, hand, stomach, and neck injuries.
Map showing Nghi Loc district where the My Yen church is located.
Online reports said up to 3,000 policemen and soldiers may have been mobilized in the crackdown. One report said, "They shot and threw grenades behind the My Yen church."
"At the hospital, police tried to stop people from getting treatment," the report said. "Some patients were in critical situation and have been sent to [the capital] Hanoi for treatment."
State-owned Nghe An TV said the authorities were forced to take action because the protesters had turned violent.Protesters provoked police?
They provoked the police into taking action by "attacking" officers on duty and pelting them with stones, the TV station reported.
One police officer and several people were injured and a number of protesters were detained, Nghe An TV reported. It called on religious leaders to cooperate with the local government to bring the situation under control.
On Tuesday, the village chairman Nguyen Trong Tao signed a document assuring the release of the two parishioners on Wednesday.
An earlier assurance of a Sept. 2 release had also not been met.
"That is why today we came here to ask them to provide us a written promise," one parishioner said.
"We have gone to the authorities from the provincial to the district level several times but they just kept delaying seeing us. The two parishioners are now in Nghi Kim prison. We don’t know what crime they committed that they [the authorities] have imprisoned them."
Ngo Van Khoi and Nguyen Van Hai were taken away in June by suspected government security agents in June and have been held without trial since then. Their families were informed they were being held for “disturbing public order,” but no specific incidents were cited.Expanding religious controls
Vietnam, under one-party communist rule, is expanding control over all religious activities and severely restricts independent religious practice and represses individuals and religious groups it views as challenging its authority, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedoms (USCIRF) said in a report this year.
“The Vietnamese government uses a specialized religious police force and vague national security laws to suppress independent Buddhist, Protestant, Hoa Hao, and Cao Dai activities, and seeks to stop the growth of ethnic minority Protestantism and Catholicism via discrimination, violence and forced renunciations of their faith,” it said.
Catholic churches in the country face strict government regulations.
In January, a Vietnamese court convicted 14 activists, including Catholics, of plotting to overthrow the government in a decision condemned by rights groups.
Many of the convicted were affiliated with Catholic Redemptorist churches in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, which have been part of a growing voice among Vietnamese movements for democracy and human rights in recent years.
The USCIRF has proposed that Vietnam be returned to a State Department list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedoms.
The State Department included Vietnam on its list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) in 2004 but removed it from the blacklist two years later and has since ignored repeated calls by the commission to reinstate the country’s designation. Reported by An Nguyen for RFA's Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.