Eight Catholic activists who were convicted by Communist court in December 2008 on charges stemming from protests at a Hanoi parish will face a new trial. The activists, who received suspended sentences for damaging government property, had appealed, insisting that they had done nothing wrong. While the state-owned media's propaganda campaign against the Catholic defendants is escalating, their lawyer has been singled out for hostile treatment, another malicious effort to deter his morale and his ability to provide council to his Catholic clients.

The People's Court in capital city of Hanoi announced last Friday that it would review notice of appeal of eight Catholic defendants' who were sentenced in early December of 2008 for their participation in prayer vigils calling for justice and the restitution of land confiscated from the Church.

At the end of the Dec. 8, 2008 trial, all eight parishioners from Hanoi's Thai Ha parish were released after seven of them received suspended sentences for “disturbing public order” and “damaging state property” in an ongoing land dispute with the Vietnamese government which had drawn international attention and help united the Vietnamese Church in the most profound way one can imagine.

The defendants were among thousands of parishioners who joined prayer vigils and peaceful rallies over the past year in the capital of Hanoi demanding the return of Catholic Church land seized by the state half a century ago.

At the trial, all denied the charges. Seven of them received suspended jail terms of 12 to 15 months, with credit for time already served while in police custody and probation periods of up to two years, and the eighth defendant received a warning. These sentences seemed to be light in comparison with what had been threatened by communist leaders in Hanoi. Upon hearing these sentences every defendants announced right in court that they would appeal to the high court.

"I did nothing wrong. Our vigils were a good thing for the government, because we prayed to God to enlighten the leaders' minds," defendant Le Quang Kien, 63, told the court.

He said parishioners organized the vigils when they heard that authorities planned to sell the land to private buyers.

The trial in lower court was held at a local town hall instead of the Dong Da District People's Court where the government said would be more difficult to limit the number of audiences.

Police surrounded the location to keep unauthorized audiences out, while a crowd of parishioners from Thai Ha parish held a demonstration outside.

Hundreds of Catholic supporters outside the Hanoi court building greeted the eight defendants, four men and four women, with flowers as they left the building, which was guarded by rows of riot police.

The upcoming trial will be held at 2 Nguyễn Trãi St, city of Hà Đông, a location 40 km away from Hanoi to avoid foreign media’s attention and to set a limit to number of Catholic supporters whose attendance is anticipated.

Vietnamese state media recently have launched a defamation campaign against the Catholic defendants, suggesting more severe punishments.

On Feb 28, 2009, the online edition of the New Hanoi Newspaper which had falsely reported the true and accurate pleas of all eight defendant from lower court trial in last December has again published an article charging the Thai Ha plaintiffs for refusing to “awaken to reality" in a very provocative, accusatory tone. It accused the defendants of “obstinacy and narrowness” and “refusing to go back to the right path”.

A week later, on March 5, Vietnam Television repeated the same charges, after brushing aside the Thai Ha parishioners' demand to broadcast the corrected version of the trial report the plaintiffs claimed VTV was responsible for.

What the state media's intention is now unraveling to the public view as they are trying to portrait the plaintiffs are none other than stubborn defendants who did not only refuse to honor the stayed sentence imposed upon them by Hanoi people's court, but also continue to cause public disturbances by insisting on the media to make corrections on what they described as "distortion of the truth" in broad daylight.

Even more alarming is the fact that the Catholics' legal counsel Mr. Le Tran Luat is now being subject of governmental intimidation and persecution for providing assistance in the law suits against the state media.

On Tuesday March 3, lawyer Le Tran Luat was arrested at Tan Son Nhat airport on last Tuesday morning when he was boarding a flight from Saigon to Hanoi in order to prepare for the law suits against the state media.

Even though he was released at the end of the day, a series of his "working sessions" with police have soon followed the arrest. On Saturday, March 15, he once again was arrested and interrogated by the police custody until mid-night. Also, he was threatened with severe consequences if he keeps defending the Catholics at the upcoming trial.

A week before, his office was ransacked. His computers and other personal equipments were confiscated. His aides were taken into custody by plainclothes policemen, and suffered from hours of interrogation. Most of the law firm staff members have resigned from their post for fear of being retaliated by the police. On March 12, his partner Nguyen Quoc Dat who has been in charge of the law firm -while Luat was preparing for the Thai Ha law suit- has been harassed and arrested, even he has no role in the case. This prompts people to suspect that the government is signaling a severe punishment on those who dare to stand on the side of justice.

Police have also attacked him financially. His law firm reported that police had forced most of his clients in Phu Quoc province to cancel their legal-aid contracts with it describing the lawyer as "a political criminal" who would soon be put into jail.

All his clients on March 15, 2009 have just filed a motion to the Hanoi People's Court and to the Department of Public Safety to ask for the release of Mr. Le Tran Luat, who has been purposely detained by Ho Chi Minh city's police, thus depriving the Catholics of their right to council on the brink of the trial, and denying them the right to due process.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As you are watching this video, the Redemptorist priests on behalf of Thai Ha parishioners have expresses their grave concern on the fate of the 8 Catholic defendants who had been victimized by an undemocratic, faulty justice system which rules not from the clear and convincing evidence but from the benefit of the state, and a overwhelmingly powerful system of the state media which only reports what the outcome dictated by the government, not the true and correct version of what really happened in court.

The Redemptorists is also making an appeal to all Catholics worldwide and people of goodwill, asking them to join with the Catholic defendants, their families and their parish in prayers and in support, as they are feeling very vulnerable and hopeless at the intimidation tactics of the Vietnam government which is clearly trying to manipulate both the court and the media to prevent the Catholic from getting a fair and impartial trial.