A worker polishes a statue in front of Hanoi's cathedral in January 2015. Catholicism is one of Vietnam's largest religions, but the government takes a strong stand against people who are politically active. (Photo by Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP)
Rights groups in Vietnam have accused police of "deliberately targeting" two Catholic activists, with officers allegedly attacking one of them twice in less than two weeks. Vu Quoc Ngu of local rights group Defend the Defenders told ucanews.com that Tran Minh Nhat was attacked on Nov. 17 "when he went for a medical checkup" after suffering injuries following a similar attack just nine days earlier. The group said in a statement that plainclothes security officers assaulted Nhat as he made his way to a clinic near his home in Lam Dong province in the Central Highlands. The attack is the second in less than two weeks, raising alarm among rights monitors. Nhat and another Catholic activist, Chu Manh Son, were assaulted after being stopped by police in the Central Highlands on Nov. 8. The pair were held for 12 hours, and, at one point, brought before a group of local communist party officials who "tried to force [Nhat] to write a letter admitting to his wrongdoings," according to a statement by another rights group, Front Line Defenders.
Defend the Defenders said that police "barbarically beat" Nhat, while Radio Free Asia and Front Line Defenders reported that Son was beaten as well. Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, called the attacks "part of a daily cycle of the systematic and pervasive rights abuse occurring across Vietnam." "The police's blatant physical attacks and ongoing intimidation of these two dissidents show the Vietnam government's complete disregard for human rights or the rule of law," he said. "All across Vietnam, dissidents are being targeted this way — the only difference is whether the incidents become public or are hushed up." Nhat and Son, both staunch rights defenders, have served lengthy jail sentences for political crimes. Nhat was released in August after a four-year prison term, while Son was released in 2014 after serving 30 months. Nhat, who is a journalist for a Catholic news organization, Vietnam Redemptorist News, was convicted along with a number of other Redemptorists after being accused of conspiring to overthrow the government. Son was convicted of using propaganda against the state. Both activists claim they have been subjected to police harassment since their release. Front Line Defenders say there can be little doubt the pair — who were stopped for allegedly communicating with a Redemptorist priest on the government's blacklist — "were specifically targeted on account of their peaceful work in defense of human rights." While Catholicism is one of Vietnam's largest religions, the government takes a strong stand against those who are politically active. More than a dozen activists — many of them Redemptorists — were arrested in 2011 after pushing for democratic reforms.
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