Vietnamese police prevented the Redemptorist Provincial Superior, Fr Vincent Pham Trung Thanh, from leaving the country for a religious conference in Singapore on Sunday.

"Police stopped me at the last checkpoint (at Tan Son Nhat airport) after I had completed all the procedures before boarding a flight to Singapore to attend the Redemptorist Conference of Provincials for Eastern Asia and Oceania," he told VietCatholic News.

The Conference has been held at the monastery of Noveda Singapore from July 11- 13.

"They took me into custody for hours before telling me to return home without any clear explanations,” he added, accusing police of violently trampling his freedom of movement and violating the law.

The incident prompted Vietnam Redemptorist Province to issue a statement alleging that Saigon police had grossly violated its Superior's religious rights by preventing him from leaving the country to attend a religious event and denying him the right to celebrate Mass at a prolife gathering.

According to Vietnamese law, with the exceptions of wanted criminals and fugitives who have already been charged with crimes, those who are not allowed to leave the country should be informed in advance at least one month.

Fr Pham has sent a letter to the city's Committee for Religious Affairs protesting about the incident.

This is the second time he has been prevented from leaving the country. On 28 December last year, he was stopped from flying to the USA.

A few weeks earlier, local officials summoned him to attend "working sessions" at a local government office. At the meeting, representatives of state administration for religious affairs and local officials took turns criticizing Redemptorists for allegedly “preaching anti-government sentiment, instigators of disorder, inciting riots, falsely accusing the government, disrespecting the nation, breaking and ridiculing the law, and instigating others to violate it.”

The Redemptorist province in Vietnam is the largest religious community in Asia. Over the past twenty years, the province has grown in size from 179 professed members in 1983 to 278 today, including 168 priests who live in about 20 houses scattered throughout the country. There are also 222 postulants.

They are known and admired for playing an active role in fighting on behalf of the poor and vulnerable against social evils and injustice. The Vietnamese authorities regularly clamp down on their pastoral activities. According to Fr Pham, he has been singled out by Vietnam secret police for harassment since the Thai Ha- Hanoi Nuncio incident took place in 2008 where his fellow Redemptorist had offered both physical and spiritual support during the massive protest of parishioners against government illegal land appropriation. He was banned from celebrating Mass at rallies organized by Vietnam Caritas to support and promote the prolife movement which he co-founded 10 years ago with Fr Le Quang Uy, another Redemptorist.

Most recently the Redemptorists have announced plans to hold candlelit vigils for political dissidents in prison.