A video showing a priest in his clerical cassock staging a protest at a police detention center has gone viral among Vietnamese netizens since Friday.
Despite great fears of brutal repression blanketing the society, on June 19, Father Joseph Nguyễn Duy Tân, pastor of Thọ Hòa parish in Đồng Nai province, came to the police detention center of Biên Hòa, 30km North of Sàigòn, to demand the immediate release of a laywoman who went missing 10 days ago.
Police, themselves, seemed to get shocked at his courage.
The last time Phạm Ngọc Hạnh, a mother of five, was seen in public was on June 10, participating in a peaceful protest at Đồng Nai’s central park. Footage of the protest posted on social media networks shows Hạnh being beaten and dragged on the street by a group of plain-clothed men. She has remained incommunicado since.
The priest accused police of violently attacking and arbitrarily detaining a peaceful woman who just wanted to express legally her opposition against the new cyber security law and new special administrative-economic units that for many represent a sell-out to China.
Thousands have been arrested after demonstrations on June 10 in the country where the ruling Communist Party retains tight media censorship and tolerates little criticism.
Father Tân’s protest was to no avail and has attracted criticisms from state-run outlets. However, “it’s a beautiful image of a bravery shepherd who dares to care for his flock amidst one the most difficult moments in the history of the nation,” said Fr. Paul Van Chi Chu, spokesperson of The Federation of Vietnamese Catholic Mass Media.
Father Tân, 50, himself, has also been a victim of repression. Two weeks earlier, he was stopped at Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport by public security officers when he was going to get on board a plane to Malaysia with 24 other priests of Xuân Lộc Diocese.
He was told “not allowed to travel abroad at the request of the Public Security Department of Đồng Nai province.”
“I doubted that the reason could result from my talk to European Union representatives at a meeting in a pagoda on May 16,” said Fr. Tân.
At the meeting with German ambassador and representatives of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Fr. Tân, along with representatives of other religions, accused the regime of arbitrarily violating his people’s human rights.
The authorities have been keeping a watchful eye over the parish priest of Thọ Hòa for quite some time because of his support for democracy and freedom.
On 4 September 2017, the priest was attacked by members of the pro-government Red Flag group (Hội Cờ Đỏ) who have tried to stifle the social activities of the Catholic community.