Updated: December 13, 2017 07:30 AM GMT
Catholics and a Buddhist monk have accused police in Ho Chi Minh City of harassing and stopping them from attending a Mass held by an outspoken priest.
On Dec. 10, three Redemptorist priests Anthony Le Ngoc Thanh, Paul Le Xuan Loc and Joseph Truong Hoang Vu, as well as six laypeople were stopped by police while they were on the way to attend a special Mass to mark the feast of the Immaculate Conception at Tho Hoa church in the neighboring province of Dong Nai.
The feast is officially observed on Dec. 8, but the Mass was moved to Dec. 10 so that all local Catholics could attend.
The Virgin Mary is the patron of the parish that is served by Father Joseph Nguyen Duy Tan, who is an outspoken critic of the Communist government.
Last September, Fr. Tan was terrorized by a communist mob armed with pistols, batons, and pepper spray after he called for political reform.
"After we just left our monastery, traffic police stopped our bus and took the driver’s license. Then plain-clothes security officers, who wore face masks, used helmets to brutally hit me and Fr. Vu while we videoed them from outside the bus," Father Loc said in a video posted on social media.
The priest, who heads the Redemptorist-run Justice and Peace Office, said plain-clothes police with rocks also threatened to damage the bus and hit them. He said he knows some of the plain-clothes officers who have attacked local Redemptorists many times.
Fr. Loc told one of the police officers that "we did not violate any laws. Why did you stop us illegally? You have already violated our rights to travel and religious freedom."
He said the plain-clothes police wearing masks seemed to back off after he confronted them.
Fr. Thanh, who planned to deliver a homily at the Mass, said police detained and interrogated them for three hours at a police station before they were released.
He said the police harassment coincided with International Human Rights Day which fell on Dec. 10.
Meanwhile, Thich Khong Tanh, a Buddhist monk who was invited to attend the Mass by Father Tan, was stopped from leaving his residence for the Mass by a dozen security officers.
"They told me 'you should not go anywhere today,'" he said.
Last year the monk was evicted from his pagoda by authorities to make way for a development project in Ho Chi Minh City.