Over 500,000 Catholics took to the streets in Vietnam on Sunday 26 July 2009, to protest over police attempts to stop a parish holding services in the grounds of a church bombed during the Vietnam war and recently confiscated by the government.
Police in Nghe An, Ha Tinh, and Quang Binh were put on high alert in response to the protests, writes Van Dang on the UK-based news site, Independent Catholic News (http://www.indcatholicnews.com/ ).
It is believed that the demonstration may be the largest religious protest in the communist state’s history.
The report says that at 7am yesterday, 170 priests and 420 women religious led half a million Catholics of Vinh Diocese and neighbouring dioceses in peaceful protests in 19 deaneries.
Banners protested against the government's continual harrassment of the Catholic Church. They demanded the immediate release of seven parishioners who were beaten and arrested in a violent police raid a week ago. Eleven more have been released.
The police have accused Catholic activists of “counter-revolutionary crimes, violating state policies on Americans’ War Crimes Memorial Sites, disturbing public order and attacking officials-on-duty,” state-run media said.
The authorities have called for the “severest punishments” for Catholics who attempt to reclaim confiscated Church properties.
Other churches in Vietnam have faced similar difficulties. The Mennonite church there, part of the Anabaptist movement, had faced closures, arrests and imprisonments, particularly of its leaders.
But a recent understanding with the government seems to have eased, if not ended, the tensions.
The Vietnamese government takes a generally negative view of religion and seeks to regulate it strictly.
There are parallels with the situation in China, although in the Chinese case, the authorities have accepted the religion is here to stay and are seeking to make use of it in consolidating social order.