Masked men and plainclothes police officers break through protesters to tear down banners criticizing the Vietnamese government for seizing land belonging to a Christian church on April 13. (Photo courtesy of Phu Phong Church)
Vietnamese Christian leaders have sharply criticized the government for the beating and harassment of church members who opposed the state seizure of their land to build a public park.
On April 11, government officials dispatched tractors and construction crews to seize a 1,000-square-meter piece of property belonging to the Phu Phong Church of Tay Son District of Binh Dinh Province. The church is under the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam.
Local Christians gathered in the church's compound to protest the land grabbing. They displayed banners calling on the government to return church property.
Two days later, church sources said a group of about 100 masked men broke through the front gate of the church, attacking the protesters and causing several injuries.
Phan Vinh Su, head of the church, said in an open statement that construction of the park on church property has continued, with the land "surrounded by police all day and night."
He said harassment of Tay Son's Christian community has continued, with church members being beaten when they leave their houses and others receiving phone calls from strangers who say, "we will kill you."
The disputed piece of land is part of a 10,000-square-meter piece of property the government took from the church after the 1975 fall of Saigon. Church members said the church still has ownership papers for the land and have petitioned the government to return it for the past 10 years. The 1,000-square-meter piece of land is too small to meet the needs of the growing congregation.
Property disputes between the communist government and Christian community are one of the hot issues currently in the country. The government confiscated all church properties after 1975. Many properties have sat unused, with government authorities attempting to sell it for profit instead of returning the property to the churches.