By BosNewsLife Asia Service
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)-- Concerns remained Thursday, September 12, over dozens of Christians who were injured in what has now been called "one of the bloodiest religious crackdowns" in recent years in Vietnam.
In comments monitored by BosNewsLife Thursday, September 12, Christians said troubles began last week Wednesday, September 4, when police fired multiple gunshots and lobbed grenades in front of a church.
Witnesses said police violently dispersed at least hundreds of Catholics demanding the release of two parishioners in a North Central Coast province who were detained for apparently no valid reason two months ago.
U.S.-backed Radio Free Asia (RFA) network said an "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. Christians said at least 40 people were injured.
State television claimed however that 300 people "mobbed" the Nghi Phuong village people's committee building in Nghi Loc district in the September 4 violence, saying they would not budge until My Yen parishioners Ngo Van Khoi and Nguyen Van Hai are freed.
AUTHORITIES DEFENDING ACTION
Nghe An TV said the authorities were forced to take action because the protesters had turned violent.
A day earlier, about 1,000 people, some of them carrying large banners, had campaigned for the pair's release, RFA reported.
"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."
Internet 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.
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."
HALTING MEDICAL TREATMENT
"At the hospital, police tried to stop people from getting treatment. Some patients were in critical situation and have been sent to [the capital] Hanoi for treatment," the report added.
Catholic church sources said security forces also destroyed homes and Catholic statues and images. Fifteen Catholic activists who were detained in the clashes were reportedly later released.
The reported crackdown comes at a time when 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, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedoms (USCIRF).
“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 in a recent report.
Catholic churches in the country face strict government regulations while evangelical churches operating outside government-control have faced closures and other harassment, BosNewsLife established. In January, a Vietnamese court convicted 14 activists, including Catholics, of plotting to overthrow the government in a decision condemned, by rights groups.
CATHOLIC REDEMPTORIST CHURCHES
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, RFA said.
There have also been disputes over the government's refusal to return lands and other properties that have been confiscated from churches and individual believers.
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.
There were also indications that the government will make it more difficult to learn about the situation of churches, who observers say have become part of the growing human rights movement, through the Internet, Thursday, September 12, amid controversial legislation.
Vietnamese police have already summoned bloggers for questions on charges of holding "illegal gatherings" at the U.S. and Swedish embassies in Hanoi, the capital, the Voice of America (VOA) reported.
CAMPAIGN AT EMBASSIES
The online writers are conducting a campaign of meetings at foreign embassies to lobby against Article 258, which makes it a crime to speak or write in a way that infringes upon Vietnam's state interests.
They say the law is meant to curb free speech and dissent and they want western governments to pressure Hanoi to repeal the measure.
Vietnamese police have defended their actions, saying the gatherings at the embassies were illegal because they did not have permits. There were no reports Thursday, September 12, that someone has been formally detained yet.
However Blogger Nguyen Dinh Ha, a participant in the campaign, expressed concern about the future. “The reason stated for the summon violates freedom of movement and the basic civil rights of the people in this country. For so long, we’ve been protesting against those regulations banning 'gatherings without permission’ because they violate basic human rights," the Internet activist told VOA's Vietnamese service.