Six parishioners of Con Dau have just been prosecuted by authority in Da Nang province. This latest legal action against them may harbinger a new wave of persecutions against Catholics in Vietnam.

On Monday May 17, police in Cam Le district of Da Nang city in central Vietnam announced that they were going to prosecute 6 parishioners of Con Dau for “disrupting public order” and “attacking state security administration personnel who are carrying out their functions according to law”.

Parishioners face police in mass
These parishioners attended the funeral of their neighbour Mary Dang Thi Tan, 82, on May 4. During the funeral procession, police intervened to prevent the burial in the parish cemetery.

For almost an hour there were clashes between the faithful and 500 police resulting in the arrest of 59 people and the injuries of dozens Catholics who were beaten brutally by police.

Mrs. Dang's coffin was snatched away from her family and parishioners in broad daylight, and later was forced to be cremated against her own will which was to be buried next to her beloved husband and other family members at the century old parish cemetery.

The Vietnamese government denied the large-scale arrest and the brutal attack against Catholics. Foreign Ministry, Nguyen Phuong Nga categorically denied the allegation saying: "this information is false and aimed only to slander Vietnam.”

However, the outraged incident was denounced by the Bishop of Da Nang. In a pastoral letter issued the next day, Mgr. Joseph Chau Ngoc Tri condemned the brutal attack against parishioners calling for immediate release of the detained. The prelate also warned about further arrests. “Police are hunting more parishioners,” he wrote.

Since early this year, the peaceful life of Con Dau residents have been turned upside down by a local governmental decision to clear out all homes in the parish of Con Dau, established 135 years ago, to make room for a tourist resort without proper compensation or assistance for their relocation.

The parish cemetery is located in an area of 10 hectares, about one kilometre from the church. It has been the only burial site of the deceased in the parish for 135 years and previously was listed among the protected historical sites by Hanoi. There was some hint on March 10, when security agents erected a sign at the entrance to the cemetery which read "Absolutely no burial in this area". When the faithful protested the government's unfair order, the chief of police blew up the contents of a tear gas cartridge in the face of one of the victims, rendering him unconscious.

Upon hearing the assault, other villagers flocked to the cemetery and demanded the police to call an ambulance and pay for the care of the wounded.

A week before that, a member of the Patriotic Front and two Religious Affairs Bureau officials visited the parish priest asking him to warn the faithful about the government's ban on burials in the cemetery. The priest refused, explaining that the cemetery and the church belong to the whole village and that there are ownership documents to prove it.

The faithful remain opposed to the project that wants to destroy their homes, land and the resting place of their ancestors. The government is pressing on, however, threatening that they will soon send bulldozers to raze the parish.

The latest development in Con Dau strengthens a growing concern of Catholics that the decline of U.S. State Department to designate Vietnam into the list of "countries of particular concern" on religious-freedom violations, and the removal of Hanoi Archbishop would have ripple negative impacts on the status of religious freedom in Vietnam.

The government's media outlets have painted both the events as government victories in the international stage, presenting itself as the absolute arbiter of all aspects of life in the country, to whom even the Pope must submit himself.

It's becoming obvious nowadays that local governments throughout the country, inspired by series of “victories” and the seemingly much weaker resistance of Catholic hierarchy and faithful, are now becoming more resolute in seizing properties of the Church and individuals, and ready to act much bolder if any resistance effort crossing their path.

In that context, the prosecution against the six parishioners seems to be a prelude of a new wave of fierce persecutions against Catholics in Vietnam.