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Vietnamese priest faces state ire over Covid fund criticism

Redemptorist Father Joseph Dinh Huu Thoai is a vocal critic of violations of human rights and religious freedom

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: October 06, 2021 06:50 AM GMT

Updated: October 06, 2021 07:00 AM GMT

Vietnamese priest faces state ire over Covid fund criticism

Vietnamese Redemptorist Father Joseph Dinh Huu Thoai has come under attack from the authorities and state media for criticizing the government's handling of the pandemic. (Photo: Amen TV/YouTube)

A Catholic priest in Vietnam has come under fire from the authorities and state-run media for criticizing the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Father Joseph Dinh Huu Thoai, a priest in Quang Nam province in central Vietnam, has received verbal attacks and threats since he wrote critical posts on Facebook about the government’s creation of a National Covid-19 Vaccine Fund and an appeal for citizens to contribute to it, reported Radio Free Asia (RFA).

On Oct. 2, Quang Nam’s provincial television station aired a news story that accused Father Thoai of “smearing and distorting the party and the state’s fight against Covid-19.”

It came a day after a newspaper run by the Ministry of Public Security published an article that said Father Thoai must be “handled” by the authorities as he had broken the country’s law on cybersecurity.

The priest dismissed the allegations and said the campaign against him was “slanderous.”

“So far, no responsible agencies have affirmed any violations I may have committed, and no records of any violations have been made. It’s completely slanderous,” the priest told RFA on Oct. 4.

In fact, it’s the people who attack those who speak up who are the lawbreakers as they have violated the people’s right to freedom of expression

He also said that Quang Nam’s Department of Information and Communications had invited him to meet on three occasions regarding his posts. The priest said he declined to speak, largely because recently the authorities closed his Facebook account without any explanation, making the issue irrelevant.

Father Thoai said it is reasonable and legitimate for any citizen to question the transparency of the vaccine fund and it cannot be “an infringement of the law.”

“In fact, it’s the people who attack those who speak up who are the lawbreakers as they have violated the people’s right to freedom of expression,” he said, adding that the state media enjoys impunity, runs cooked-up stories and targets anyone who criticizes the government.

Father Thoai, a member of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (popularly known as the Redemptorists), has worked for years in a Redemptorist mission to support poor and disabled South Vietnamese soldiers who have suffered in misery since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

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Currently an assistant parish priest, he has been an outspoken advocate of human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam, triggering a backlash from the communist regime.

In 2011, he was barred from traveling to Cambodia and in 2018 he was stopped from traveling to the United States to visit relatives and friends.

Vietnam had successfully tackled earlier bouts of the pandemic with strict border controls, testing, lockdowns and quarantine measures. However, the Delta variant has wreaked havoc in recent months amid a sluggish vaccination program.

The country has registered 818,324 cases and 19,979 deaths from the coronavirus, according to worldometers.info. About 10.9 million Vietnamese or about 11.2 percent of the population have been fully vaccinated.

The government established the vaccine fund in late May to get donations to purchase and import vaccines as well as to finance research to produce vaccines. The fund has received donations equivalent to US$384 million from individuals and organizations in Vietnam and abroad.

The authorities have faced nationwide criticism after calling on officials, civil servants and employees to contribute a day’s salary to the fund, with many questioning the government’s silence on what is being done with the interest from money in the bank.  

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