Waving Vatican flags, more than 5000 Catholics from Cau Ram, Yen Dai and Ke Gai parishes in the Cau Ram deanery (Vinh Diocese) took to the streets last Sunday to demonstrate against a decision by local authorities to turn land belonging to Church in Cau Ram into a Soldiers' Monument and police’s secret kidnap plots.

The protest erupted among Catholics after local authorities had decided to turn the land of Cau Ram parish into a public park with a Soldiers' Monument, in a similar tactic that Vietnam government had applied at other land in dispute with the Church.

During the American war, the church of Cau Ram was occupied by the communist and eventually turned into a military base, making it a target of US bombing. At the end of the Vietnam War, the Vietnamese communist government conveniently declared the area a ‘memorial site’ to be “preserved and protected for future generations in memory of American war crimes.”

Requests by local Catholics to have the land returned to the Church so that they could rebuild their historic church which dated back to the early 20th century, went unheeded. Instead, the land was first subdivided to allow the construction of a road that links Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh’s home, some 330 kilometres to the north.

Later, local authorities seemed to change their mind and decided to build a residential complex with flats for private sale worth millions of dollars to several government officials. The decision was met with strong opposition by Catholics which might have halted the project for the past two years.

On July 27, local government of Nghe An province finally announced their plan to turn the land into a public park with a Soldiers' Monument. This has been the last straw, prompting the marching of thousands on the streets carrying banners that read " Please respect freedom of religion", "Stop trampling on holy ground", and "We demand justice" "Listen to your conscience". The demonstration had received soaring support of the public, both Catholics and non-Catholics.

Demonstrators also protested recent secret kidnap plots by police against Catholic youth in the diocese.

Facing a wake of anti-China demonstrations and protests calling for the release of prominent dissidents, Vietnam communist regime has unleashed new round of crackdown aiming directly at the Catholic young people.

Catholic source in the diocese of Vinh informed that 8 Catholic university students and young laymen had been arrested during the period from July 30 to Aug 3 without probable cause. The victims' whereabouts are not known, causing deep concerns not only for their families but all Catholics in general, since all of them are Catholic activists and devoted followers.

On July 30, Peter Ho Duc Hoa and Jean Baptiste Nguyen Duc Oai of Quynh Luu, Nghe An; and Francis Dang Xuan Dieu of Nghi Loc, Nghe An were arrested on their arrival from the city of Vinh to Tan Son Nhat airport, Saigon.

Three days later, plain-clothes policemen secretly arrested three other Catholic university students in the city of Vinh. The detainees were Peter Nguyen Huu Duc, Anthony Dau Van Duong and Anthony Chu Manh Son, parishioners of Van Loc and Duc Van.

On Aug 3, police raided Francis Dang Xuan Tuong workplace and dragged him home for a thorough search which resulted in nothing. He was released two days later.

On the same day, in Hanoi, 6 policemen arrested blogger Paulus Le Son at his rented- storage, taking away his motorbike and other belongings.

So far, relatives of detainees do not know their whereabouts whilst police at all levels have denied the arrests.

Candlelight vigils are going to be held this weekend at all churches in the diocese of Vinh for detainees.

“These incidents harbinger more crackdowns against the Church,” Fr. Joseph Nguyen from Hanoi warns, referring to the re-incarceration of a prominent dissident and advocate for human and religious rights, Fr. Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, currently on temporary release, and the prevention of Redemptorist Superior Fr. Pham Trung Thanh and Fr. Dinh Huu Thoai from leaving the country for religious activities.