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Vietnam Catholics jailed despite protests

Arrests sparked mass demonstrations

Mike MacLachlan, London

November 1, 2013

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Two Catholics whose arrest sparked mass protests in Vietnam’s Nghe An province last month have been jailed.

Nguyen Van Hai and Ngo Van Khoi were sentenced to six and seven months respectively for “disturbing public order,” Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said.

The two were arrested on June 27 following an incident on May 22 when Catholics visiting a shrine and attending Mass at a church in Nghi Phuong commune were stopped and searched, apparently by plain clothes police.

The searchers did not show any identification and many in the crowd thought they were robbers. It is thought Nguyen and Ngo argued with the officers. Others say the two were merely scapegoats.

Their arrests brought a petition for their release from Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop of Vinh diocese and a number of local Catholics.

The district chief promised that they would be freed on September 4. When that failed to happen, several hundred protesters surrounded the district office and were dispersed by military personnel with guns, batons, tear gas and dogs.

Sources in Vietnam told CSW that between 21 and 40 people were hurt when police and troops beat demonstrators with electric batons. Religious icons were also smashed, they said.

After the crackdown Bishop Nguyen appealed on the VietCatholic website for the authorities to “respect people’s dignity and right to religious belief.”  He described the attack as “barbaric.”

The sentences “come as a huge disappointment to the Catholic community in Nghe An,” CSW’s chief executive, Mervyn Thomas, said yesterday.

The accused’s relatives were not allowed to attend the three-hour trial on October 23, CSW said. The closed-door trial “is of particular concern,” Thomas commented.

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