Catholic women assaulted in Vietnam over land dispute

Evictees claim unlawful land grab after Church granted them the land in 1954, but govt says houses were built illegally
Catholic women assaulted in Vietnam over land dispute

Plainclothes police order an elderly woman carrying flowers to vacate some appropriated land in Ho Chi Minh City on March 8. (Photo supplied by Marie Uyen Le) reporter, Ho Chi Minh City
March 11, 2019
At least two Catholic women were attacked by police in southern Vietnam last week while attempting to reclaim land they said was illegally seized in January.

On March 8, scores of disgruntled women gathered at Loc Hung Garden in Ho Chi Minh, raising banners that read, "Officials meet us, return our land."

They also held flowers to mark International Women’s Day at their demonstration, which came about two months after local authorities destroyed their properties. 

They have also taken their fight to the nation's capital, with representatives of the group handing a petition to the Government Inspectorate Committee on Receiving Citizens Complaints in Hanoi in mid-February.

The land in question is located in Ward 6 of the city’s Tan Binh district.

Police and other security officials forcibly removed them from the garden while plainclothes police who concealed their identities with face masks recorded them.

The women demanded the police leave their land and accused the government of illegally grabbing their land. They sought dialogue with local authorities but were met with violence, they said.

Witnesses said police brutally assaulted two women identified as Bao Quyen and Thuy Thanh who were taking photos of the proceedings and videoing the police.

Quyen, a mother of three, said a group of men beat her, dragged her into a car and slammed her head against the car door. She was then driven to the headquarters of Ward 1.

"Two female (police officers) humiliated me by forcing me to take off my clothes so they could search me," she said.

She said officials threatened her and ordered her to name the ringleaders of the group that was demanding compensation for what they claimed was their unlawful eviction.

They also asked her to "call on other people to (persuade them to) accept financial assistance from the government, and told us not to gather on public land or cause public disorder."

However, priests, Vietnamese war veterans and low-income earners condemned the government's financial assistance plans just days after the state-run Tuoi Tre reported on Jan. 13 that Tan Binh district would be assisting those who lost a 4.8-hectare plot of farmland by paying them 7,055,000 dong (US$304) per square meter.

Quyen, whose youngest child is just 14 months old, said she informed the police that all of the victims were united in their opposition to being evicted.

"We are seeking justice after losing our properties, which have been used by families for generations," the Catholic woman said.

She said the government had stationed security forces on their land to stop them from accessing it.

Officials also use loudspeakers to spread "hostile propaganda" against the group, she said, adding this was causing problems for people who wanted to visit a nearby Marian statue for their daily prayers.

Quyen, who said she was detained for nine hours by police, claims she asked the city’s top officials to come and see their suffering for themselves.

She said she has been living with her family in a rented house since their home was destroyed, and vowed to sue the police for assault and illegal detention.

Other victims of the eviction move said the authorities demolished 503 houses as well as crops on a 4.8-hectare garden from Jan. 4-8.

They said the Catholic Church granted them the land in 1954 after they moved there from northern Vietnam.

The local government responded by saying they had built houses there without permits, thus necessitating their demolition.

Authorities plan to build schools and other public facilities on the land, officials said.

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