St Joseph's Cathedral in Vietnam's capital Hanoi also faced challenges over ownership of the land next to the church which resulted in protests in 2008. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
St Joseph’s Cathedral in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi also faced challenges over ownership of the land next to the church which led to protests in 2008. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

One of the highlights at this time of year for the citizens of Communist Vietnam is to go to see often highly elaborate temporary ‘constructions’ showing the Nativity scene of Christ’s birth which local Christians build onto their churches or homes. There are, for instance, whole streets of such scenes in suburban Ho Chi Minh city, which has a strong Catholic population.

Now Catholics in Dien My Commune, Nghe An province in northern Vietnam, have been ordered by government officials to take down a nativity scene that was erected on land next to their church.

Police and local government ordered Dong Kieu Church to stop the building of the nativity scene on 13 December because of an ownership dispute over the land. The church, however, says the plot is part of their compound, reports UCAN.

It also reports this is not the first time the authorities have confronted Dong Kieu Church. They have also attempted to remove a priest there. Father Dominic Pham Xuan Ke, head of the regional Dong Thap Deanery of half a million Christians, said that despite repeated harassment of Catholics by gangsters, consisting of Communist supporters, during September, local authorities had not taken any action to stop the attacks.

Stopped from attending Mass

Meanwhile, according to UCAN, on 10 December the police in Ho Chi Minh City stopped three priests, six laypeople and a Buddhist monk from attending a special Mass at Tho Hoa church in Dong Nai province. The Mass was led by a priest, Father Joseph Nguyen Duy Ta, who is known to be critical of the Communist government.

After the police stopped the bus the nine Catholics were travelling in, plain-clothes officers threatened the passengers, hitting some of them. They were then detained at a police station and interrogated for three hours before being released.

The Buddhist monk who also intended to join the Mass never left his house as a dozen security officers prevented him from going.

European Parliament condemns human rights’ abuses

In a meeting in Strasbourg on Thursday 14 December the European Parliament (EP) spoke out against religious persecution taking place in Vietnam.

In a resolution adopted unanimously by the EP and the European Commission, they said that “freedom of religion or belief is repressed in Vietnam and the Catholic Church and non-recognised religions, such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, several Protestant churches and others, including ethnic minority Montagnards, continue to suffer severe religious persecution”.

The EP said that several laws that recently had been adopted, like the Law on Belief and Religion, were not in line with international norms. Vietnam’s Catholic and Evangelical leaders, as well as Buddhists and Caodaists, say the main benefit of this law, two years in the making, will not be religious freedom but rather the government’s control of religion.

The Vietnamese government denied all the allegations of these and other human rights abuses. In a letter addressed to MEPs, urging them to not adopt the resolution, it said that the convictions of people like the Catholic blogger Nguyen Ngọc Nhu Quynh and journalist Nguyen Van Hoa were justified, as the first had been collaborating with a “terrorist organisation” and the second had “confessed his wrong-doings”.