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Vietnamese police tear down 'illegal' nativity scenes

Heavy hand of the law comes down on evicted Catholics who built scenes on land 'stolen' from them by authorities

ucanews reporter, Ho Chi Minh City.

ucanews reporter, Ho Chi Minh City.

Published: December 09, 2019 10:10 AM GMT
Vietnamese police tear down 'illegal' nativity scenes

Landless people pray after police in Ho Chi Minh City demolished their nativity scenes on Dec. 8. (Photo supplied)

Vietnamese authorities in Ho Chi Minh City have destroyed nativity scenes and statues erected by people on land that was allegedly taken from them earlier this year, local Catholics said.

Police and security officials in the southern city’s Tan Binh district descended on and destroyed several nativity scenes at the Loc Hung Vegetable Garden on Dec. 8, they said.

Witnesses said people who tried to stop the destruction were beaten up and thrown off the land by plainclothes police, who also videoed and took pictures of everyone at the site. Some of those beaten were elderly, they said.

“We made nativity scenes on our land to celebrate this coming Christmas. There was no reason for the government to destroy them as we have not done any harm,” said one local who wished to remain anonymous.

Other witnesses said police also arrested three people who were later freed after many people marched on a police station to demand their release. 

Joseph Pham Trung Hieu, one of those arrested, said police had accused them of making the nativity scenes illegally and causing unrest. 

“I told them placing nativity scenes on our land and praying before them was a longstanding tradition,” he said, adding he was fined 150,000 dong (US$6.50) for not presenting his identity papers to officers.

Mary Cao Thi Thu, another detainee, said she was also fined 750,000 dong, which she said she cannot pay.

The last detainee, Joseph Pham Duy Quang, claimed he was beaten and accused of illegal assembly while in custody

All said they were only doing what they have done for years on five hectares of land which they said was taken from them earlier this year by local authorities wanting to build facilities such as security posts and schools.

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They and other locals demanded the return of the land, which they said they had cultivated for years. They claimed they had legal papers saying they owned the land but officials were refusing to recognize them.

Numerous petitions to the central government had also fallen on deaf ears, they said.

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