ICC NOTE: Following Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein’s visit to Vietnam, Church parishioners of the Huong Phuong church were attacked by local authorities. It is not the first time church members have been attacked by police. Typically it occurs with only one or two Christians and is typically harassment. However, this situation involved bullets, batons, and tear gas. The reason still remains a mystery but the timing of the attack and the visit by Ambassador Saperstein would make the likelihood of it being related rather high.
04/08/2016 Vietnam (Radio Free Asia) – Just days after the top U.S. diplomat for religious freedom worldwide left Vietnam, at least three Catholic parishioners were injured in a clash with local authorities in Quang Binh province, according to a local priest.
It’s unclear what led to the April 6 altercation at the Huong Phuong church, but local priest Le Nam Cao told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that police and soldiers fired bullets near the church and used tear gas and batons on the parishioners before tearing down decorations erected for an annual festival.
“It was noon time and most of the men were at work, so only old women and children were at home,” he told RFA. “Parishioners told me of the crackdown. I told them that I would not go out and they should go home and just let them do whatever they wanted because we had no weapons, so it was not good for us. “
While Le Nam Cao tried to convince his parishioners to stand down, some of them ignored his advice.
Tear gas, bullets and batons
“Some people did not agree, so they fought back against the troops including policemen and soldiers who were well equipped with tear gas, bullets and batons,” he said. “They fired tear gas. We could feel it inside our church. They shot some bullets near the church.”
Le Nam Cao said three or four people were injured, with some sustaining cuts on their heads and many suffering from tear gas. Authorities took some of the parishioners into custody, but they were later released, he said.
“One parishioner was looking at the scene, and he was detained and beaten by the police while some people got tear gas in their eyes, but they were not in danger,” he said. “I heard the ones that were seriously injured were treated in the hospital, and the rest just went home. The parishioners took care of bruises and bleeding.”
The timing of the attack was also odd as Le Nam Cao said he had just finished a meeting with local political leaders.
“They just came to talk to us for a short time then left,” he said. “After they left our church, the troops rushed in.”
When RFA contacted local authorities, they denied that an altercation had occurred.