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Human Rights Watch Monitoring Crackdown on Catholics

Nguoi Viet, Posted: Oct 17, 2008

NEW YORK The Vietnamese government should immediately release Roman Catholics arrested for holding peaceful prayer vigils in Hanoi and hold accountable police and others responsible for attacking Catholic parishioners, Human Rights Watch said. The protesters have been calling for the return of church properties confiscated by the government.

Human Rights Watch also urged the government to end the harassment, threats, and restrictions on the movement of the Archbishop of Hanoi, Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, who has publicly defended the rights of the Catholic protesters and visited the families of arrested parishioners.

''This is the harshest crackdown on Catholics in Vietnam in decades,'' said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch. ''Sadly, religious repression and violent crackdowns by the Vietnamese authorities against peaceful protesters are nothing new.''

Vietnam has neither seen such large numbers of Catholics participating in public protests since the 1950s, nor has the government responded to Catholics so violently as it has in recent decades.

Vietnamese authorities recently used tear gas and electric batons to disband peaceful Catholic prayer vigils in Hanoi, and bulldozed properties considered sacred to Vietnamese Catholics. Hundreds of unidentified people, some in the blue shirts of the Communist Youth League, have harassed, cursed, and spit at parishioners and destroyed church statues. At least eight Catholic parishioners have been arrested for participating in the vigils since the latest round of protests began in mid-August.On Sept. 19, authorities detained and beat an American reporter covering these events.

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