Two Vietnamese Catholics whose arrest led to protests last month have been handed jail terms.
Nguyen Van Hai, 43, and Ngo Van Khoi, 53, were ordered on Oct. 23 to serve six and seven months, respectively, for “disturbing public order”.
The charges relate to an incident on May 22, when plain-clothed police officers stopped and searched Catholics attending Mass at a church in Nghi Phuong, south of Hanoi. Nguyen and Ngo were arrested the following month, although the precise reason for this is unclear.
Three months later, in September, protesters took to the streets of Nghi Phuong to petition for their release.
Around 40 people were injured during the protests. Protesters claimed that police had promised the pair’s release by Sept. 4, although police later denied this claim. Tear gas, batons and police dogs were used to disperse protests. Around 15 protesters were arrested.
The families of Nguyen and Ngo were not allowed to attend their trial.
On Sept. 8, the Federation of Vietnamese Catholic Mass Media released a statement condemning the government’s role in ordering the harsh police response.
“The laws of Vietnam have become an effective means for the authorities to use whenever they want to suppress their own people,” the statement read.
Khoi’s children told Radio Free Asia they were shocked by the convictions, saying the men were both innocent and that they would appeal.
Asianews.it, a Catholic news service, noted that the public-order charge is only one of several that had been laid against the two men. The news service said the government may elect to prosecute charges of detaining people, damaging property and causing injuries. Indeed, the state news agency said another trial is being planned, asianews.it reported.
Vietnam is No. 21 on the 2013 World Watch List, an annual ranking of the 50 countries where life as a Christian is most difficult. It is published by Open Doors International, a ministry to Christians under pressure for their faith.
“In the coming years, it is unlikely that the situation will change substantially in favour of the Christian minority. Authorities have started to place more restrictions on areas that have experienced a more ‘lax’ approach from the government for years,” reports the List.
Of the country’s approximate 9.7 million Christians, more than 8 million are Catholic.