Vietnamese Catholics prevented from fencing off statue

Parishioners in Ha Tinh province clash with officials over use of public land as they seek to protect a sacred statue
Vietnamese Catholics prevented from fencing off statue

Catholics from My Loc Parish are prevented from building a fence dividing a Sacred Heart statue and a government-run culture house in Ha Tinh province on March 22. (Photo courtesy of thanhnienconggiao)

State officials and police in a northern province of Vietnam have stopped Catholic parishioners from erecting a cement fence in a controversial area next to a government facility.

The authorities used large loudspeakers to threaten and force Catholics from My Loc Parish in Ha Tinh province’s Loc Ha district to stop construction of the fence that would separate a Sacred Heart statue from a state-run culture house where people meet and work noisily, witnesses said.

Local people only stopped their work after the authorities made firm promises.

A representative of the province and district promised to erect a fence dividing the house and the statue at the parish’s request. He blamed lower-ranking officials for not investigating the case properly. Catholics took photos and videos of his promise as evidence.

“Next week both sides will meet to proceed with the construction of the fence,” the parish said in a statement. The fence is intended to “protect the religiosity or holiness” of the statue from the culture house.

“We are honestly expecting the government to keep their promise. If they fail to do so, we will continue our construction and release all evidence publicly,” the statement said.

Parishioners said the statue is part of an area of some 3,300 square meters that 16 Catholic families offered to the parish in 2011. The parish, established in 2005, uses the remaining area as a football field to serve local people.

Since 2011, local authorities have attempted to confiscate the area. They built the culture house, only three meters from the statue, on the same land.

In April 2019, parish priest Father Peter Tran Phuc Chinh and local Catholics petitioned and spoke five times with local authorities to settle the matter.

They said the district authority agreed with the parish that the land is used as a public place and the statue will remain in place.

However, officials from the newly established Binh An Commune refused to allow the parish to erect a fence between the statue and the culture house but demanded a fence be erected surrounding the entire area in question.

Catholics accuse the commune of not announcing public funds to build the fence and the time frame of the construction.

“Due to fruitless dialogue, we have to build the fence in order to separate the statue from the culture house to protect the great solemnity of the statue,” the parish said.

Conflicts between the people and the government over property have often turned violent because the government does not recognize private ownership and the authorities confiscate land at low prices and sell to others at high prices.

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