Catholic church in Hanoi, Vietnam. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam has criticised the government over their seizure of Benedictine land (World Watch Monitor)

Land belonging to Benedictine monks in central Vietnam has been appropriated by the government, according to Catholic news agency UCAN.

Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh, head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam, said the government has sold Thien An monastery’s land to local and foreign enterprises to help attract investment.

At a meeting on 12 July to try to resolve the dispute, government officials told the monks about a decision to confiscate 107 hectares of farmland and pine forest, which would be loaned to a local tourism company. The monastery would keep six hectares.

After the three-and-a-half-hour meeting, Father Peter Khoa Cao Duc Loi, one of the participants, said: “Officials asked us to obey the law and sign an 11-page record of the meeting that had already been prepared by them but we refused and opposed it”. He added that the monks were given little time to present their side of the argument.

This is not an isolated incident. Previously, in June, 200 policemen with iron rods and batons broke into a monastery in Thua Thien Hue province, central Vietnam. Monks were attacked and a cross was desecrated during the raid, which followed a long-term land dispute.

Vietnam’s government was recently widely criticised for its harsh treatment of Catholic bloggers, handing out a 10-year sentence to Mary Magdalene Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, and expelling to France Peter Pham Minh Hoang. Both were accused of crimes against the state.

Meanwhile legal experts have condemned a revised penal code that requires lawyers to report on their clients in cases deemed to be a threat to national security. A Vietnamese lawyer speaking anonymously told UCAN: “If the defence reports on their clients, they would be breaking their absolute confidence … and would become spies of the police, instead of protectors of clients.”