Vietnamese authorities have released all 15 Catholics detained in a bloody crackdown on protests in a North Central Coast province but are still refusing to free two parishioners whose arrest in June triggered the demonstrations, sources said Thursday.
Security remained tight in Nghi Phuong village in Nghe An province one day after police opened fire in front of the My Yen church as they moved to break up a demonstration by hundreds demanding the freedom of parishioners Ngo Van Khoi and Nguyen Van Hai, who had been held without trial for nearly three months.
A parishioner told RFA's Vietnamese Service that five of those detained during the crackdown were freed by the police shortly after being held on Wednesday while the others were released "after our priest talked to them."
On Thursday morning, "many police and soldiers were still in Nghi Phuong," the parishioner said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
At least seven people were injured in the crackdown, one seriously, according to the source.
A man identified only as Van, 35 years old, is in "critical" condition after being "beaten at home" by security forces, the source said. "At this moment, three people are still in hospital."
Parishioners were surprised by the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters, saying they had merely demanded that the authorities keep their promise of releasing Khoi and Hai on Wednesday.
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.
The authorities did not say why they reneged on the promise to release the duo.
"The village’s chairman lied to us. We're Catholics and we only can pray," another parishioner told RFA. "We did not use violence but they treated us like that."
Khoi and Hai were taken away in June by suspected government security agents 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.
State-owned Nghe An TV said Wednesday that the authorities were forced to take action because the protesters had turned violent.
They provoked the police into taking action by "attacking" officers on duty and pelting them with stones, the TV station reported, saying one police officer was injured in the incident.
Vietnam, under one-party communist rule, imposes various restrictions on religious activities, including those of Catholic churches.
Tensions between the government and Vietnam’s Catholic community have also been marked by disputes over church property seized by the communists during the Vietnam War.
In January, a Vietnamese court jailed a group of over a dozen activists, many of them affiliated with Catholic Redemptorist churches in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, for plotting to overthrow the state in a decision condemned by rights groups and several governments, including the U.S. and France.
The churches have been part of a growing voice among Vietnamese movements for democracy and human rights in recent years.
Reported by An Nguyen for RFA's Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.