After a series of property disputes over the past year between Vietnamese Catholics and the state, Vietnam government has published a new directive on land related to religion. But, Catholics and believers of other religions do not welcome it.

In the directive signed on Dec. 31 and published on Jan. 6, the Vietnamese Prime Minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, says any land related to religion under state management “must be used effectively” and “in a way that do not hurt the feelings of the faithful.” At the same time, he threatens to punish severely any activities from believers of religions relating to such land that create social disorder, "split national and community unity", or break the law.

"Buildings and land related to religion under state management, or allocated for use by organizations or agencies, must be used effectively for the correct purpose, and not affect the feelings of religious followers," the prime minister's directive said on the government's website.

In details, the directive decreed that land of religions that had been confiscated “before the July 1, 1991 must be dealt by the Resolution 23/2003/QH11.” The later, published by the congress on Nov. 26, 2003, stated that all land and properties seized by the state before July 1, 1991 in order to create the socialist regime in Vietnam would not be returned to its owners.

All 2250 properties of Catholic Church in Vietnam had been seized by the government before July 1, 1991.

“The new directive has nothing new,” said Fr. Joseph Nguyen from Hanoi, “It just tries to maintain the injustice that believers of religions have been being suffered.”

“Take the nunciature as an example. It has been converted into a public park even there is already a huge park at the Hoan Kiem Lake (“Lake of the Returned Sword”) just a few hundred meters away. Can anyone say that the nunciature is now used ‘effectively’ and ‘in a way that do not hurt the feelings of the faithful’?” he asked.

The government's website also quoted Mr. Dung as saying "any actions that use the settlement of issues around land and buildings relating to religion to create social disorder split national and community unity or break the law must be dealt with clearly and strictly."

Last month, a court in Hanoi convicted eight Catholics of “disturbing public order and damaging state property” for their role in a series of protests over a plot of land at Hanoi Redemptorist Monastery. They have denied all charged leveled on them by the government stating that they just came to the site to pray peacefully. On the eve of the feast of our Lady of Assumption, after days of drenching rain, part of a wall on the site collapsed. Foreseeing that other parts of it would soon collapse in a domino fashion, possibly causing injury to participants at the prayer vigils, they removed several feet of the wall. The government immediately had arrested and jailed them for months before trying them in December.

The case of eight Catholics in Thai Ha is a typical example of what Vietnam government means by "any actions. . to create social disorder split national and community unity or break the law."

“Obviously, the new directive does not try to solve issues relating to land and properties of religions that have been seized by Vietnam government,” Fr. Joseph Nguyen commented. “The directive and what the Vietnam PM said on the government’s web site tend to focus more on the threat to punish harshly any land protests from Catholics and other regions’ followers. The collection of nonsense in this country has just been added with another item” he added.