Police and pro-government thugs in the village of Dong Hoi, located at around 70 km South of Hanoi, are at war with Catholics. Seven Catholics were kidnapped. A priest was restrained and threatened while trying to intervene in an attack against his travel companion.

Police and pro-government thugs ready to attack

Blocking access to the area
Catholics marching on the street to protest
“Had he not been wearing a helmet, he’d be death by now,” said a nurse who was also a nun of the Lovers of the Holy Cross order in Dong Chiem who provided medic care to save the life of JB Nguyen Huu Vinh, a Catholic writer and reporter who was beaten and robbed by a dozen of police and pro-government thugs.

At 5:30 PM on Monday Jan. 11, Fr. Nguyen Van Lien, assistant priest of Dong Chiem Parish, was attacked by “a group of police in uniform and plain clothes” when he was giving the victim a riding tour around the village on his motorbike.

“As I was trying to get around a huge dirt pile on the bridge of Ai Nang, freshly dumped to block access to the area, a group of police in uniform and plain clothes attacked us,” the priest recalled.

“Seeing the victim wearing a camera in his neck, about 10 police officials jumped to and beat him savagely, trying to snatch his camera. I left my motorbike, jumping to his defense but the police used batons to threaten and held me back, ” said Fr. Nguyen. “Once they got the camera, they left the scene, leaving the victim lying in the middle of the road with a bloody mouth and a concussion,” he added.

The priest was not in serious condition, but his companion was beaten to unconsciousness.

Sisters of the order of Lovers of the Holy Cross in Dong Chiem came to rescue. On their way, Fr. Nguyen and the sisters also found a bike of two Catholic disabled war veterans. Fr. Nguyen confirmed that the two veterans had come to visit Dong Chiem and left him minutes earlier. The two had been attacked and abducted by the same group of police, passersby reported. Their motorbike remained at the scene, their whereabouts, however, remained un-accounted for.

After the evening Mass, thousands of Catholics marched on the street of Dong Chiem to protest the attack against Fr. Nguyen and other Catholics and the detention of other 5 parishioners.

On Jan. 7, a day after the infamous police attack in Dong Chiem, in a gesture of defiance toward the government, the faithful erected a new bamboo cross at the very site where the destroyed crucifix once stood. The action was to affirm the right of ownership of the land that "has belonged to the parish for more than 100 years and will not be abandoned."

A few hours later, 5 among the poorest parishioners in the village were asked to come to governmental service center for "filling out applications for food aid". At the end of the day, local authorities announced on loud speakers that the five “had bent their heads admitting guilty” in re-erecting the bamboo cross. They then were jailed at an unknown location.

The situation in Dong Chiem seems spinning out of control as the local government is reapplying the old trick of using hired thugs, and delinquent juveniles to attack Catholics while state media keep spreading negative image of Catholic on loud speakers day in and day out with the same language to distort the truth, defame religion, and promote hatred between Catholics and non-Catholics.

On the streets, police and gangs of thugs have stopped anyone who dares wearing any Catholic religious symbol to assault them.

On Jan. 09, Le Cong Sang, chairman of My Duc District's People Committee, who had ordered the brutal attack at Dong Chiem 3 days earlier, signed a statement accused Fr. Joseph Nguyen Van Huu of "not fulfilling his duty as pastor but rather leading his faithful into committing crimes". The pastor of Dong Chiem was also accused of “encouraging anti-government activities”, “undermining the great national unity bloc,” and “conducting propaganda against the people’s government”.

Sang ordered Fr. Joseph Nguyen to remove the new erected bamboo cross and to present himself in person at the People’s Committee of My Duc District. The courageous priest has defiantly protested the order. He set up a bulletin board to fill his flock in with latest developments and reassure them that they would not be alone in this ordeal, that Masses and prayer vigils have been held to pray for them throughout the country and from as far away as England, Ireland, Japan, and USA.

Bishops from all over the country have praised Fr. Joseph Nguyen and his parishioners for their testimonies of faith. Despite the risk of being assaulted by pro-government thugs, Bishop Joseph Nguyen Van Yen of Phat Diem travelled personally to the site to console them.

However outpouring the support is, the government does not seem ready to back down as the language in the statement of the Committee of My Duc indicated. If they have their way, Dong Chiem will be just another Thai Ha, Tam Toa, or Vinh Long where they had boldly held on to their plan of not returning the properties belonged to the Church, despite of what they said to the public and to the Vatican during the heads of the state visits in the recent past.