The rice is ripening on paddy fields and the church bell jingles every day in Nghi Phuong commune, Nghi Loc district, the central province of Nghe An. However, the local peaceful life was suddenly disturbed by extreme parishioners.

The incident began on May 22 when priest Dang Huu Nam in charge of Binh Thuan parish, Nghi Thuan commune, gathered hundreds of Catholic parishioners from different localities at Trai Gao church to pray for eight persons who were about to stand trial at an appeal court held by the Supreme People’s Court in Vinh city on May 23 on the charge of conducting subversive activities.

Several parishioners stopped five policemen who were sent to look into the situation and beat them up, then illegally detained three of the officers for more than two hours. Hundreds of parishioners surrounded the house of Dau Van Son, the communal official in charge of military affairs in Nghi Phuong, destroyed a lot of property in his house, and even set fire to live chickens.

Seeing the injuries on the three policemen, Bishop Nguyen Thai Hop did nothing to stop the parishioners but indifferently watched them force the officers to sign a “record” slandering that the police “hinder parishioners from conducting religious rituals”.

According to the investigation agency, the three policemen who were assaulted on May 23 suffered from a 20 percent damage of their health, while total economic loss to Son’s family amounted to over 94 million VND (4,450 USD). Particularly, Son’s wife and his four-year-old daughter suffered from serious psychological trauma following the incident.

Nghe An police conducted an investigation into the incident and started a criminal case on four charges of “causing public disorder”, “illegal detaining people”, “deliberately causing injures” and “deliberately vandalising citizens’ property”. They also launched legal proceedings against Nguyen Van Hai and Ngo Van Khoi, both in Nghi Phuong commune, and detained the two men in line with legal procedures on the charge of “causing public disorder”.

Recalling the nigh of May 23 when they, together with several parishioners, beat and illegally detained the three policemen, surrounded and vandalised Son’s house, both Hai and Khoi showed repentance. Hai confessed: “I now realise that I was wrong when shouting “Beat him to death” because it incited other people. Previously, I did not think much when acting, but now I understand that it was right when I was accused and temporarily detained for causing public disorder. Please show clemency to me and reduce the punishment.” For his part, Khoi admitted that he had shouted “Beat! Beat” which incited others to assault officials and the policemen. He wrote on his self-declaration: “My acts have violated the law. If I am let out pending trial, I will abide by the law...”

On August 30, the People’s Committee of Nghi Loc district and provincial police invited Bishop Hop to the headquarters of Nghi Phuong commune People’s Committee to persuade the crowd who were surrounding the headquarters to disperse. He stated in front of over 300 parishioners: “You all can go home now, I have voiced my opinion to the authorities about the incident. After five days, if the authorities do not release the detainees, it’s no longer my responsibility and you are free to do what you want.”

At a working session with Nghe An police on September 1, Bishop Hop again requested that the police release the two detainees. To this request, Colonel Nguyen Huu Cau, Deputy Director of Nghe An Police, said the incident in Trai Gao parish violated the law, and the arrest of those persons by the police is in line with the law.

He said if the bishop’s office acts as guarantor of those persons, the police will free them, noting that they must show up when summoned.

However, Bishop Hop and three accompanying Catholic priests did not agree to act as guarantor for the detainees but continued to demand their unconditional release.

On August 30 and September 3 and 4, hundreds of parishioners in My Yen parish and nearby localities gathered to surround the headquarters of the People’s Committee of Nghi Phuong commune. They held provocative banners and posters and caused social order disturbance in attempts to produce pressure as a way to demand the release of the arrested parishioners.

Some extreme Catholics even stormed into and occupied the office of the Vice Chairman of the communal People’s Committee. They beat six officials of Nghi Loc district and Nghi Phuong commune in order to force Nguyen Trong Tao, Chairman of the communal People’s Committee, to write a document asking the provincial People’s Committee and Police to free Khoi and Hai before 4pm on September 4, 2013. They also forced Nguyen Huu Lam, Vice Chairman of Nghi Loc district People’s Committee, to write a confirmation by the district People’s Committee before releasing the six officials and dispersing.

In the afternoon of September 4, 30 parishioners, including the wives of Hai and Khoi, stormed into the office of the People’s Committee of Nghi Phuong commune to demand the release of the arrested parishioners as written in the paper that the Chairman had been forced to write.

Meanwhile, hundreds of parishioners continued to surround the office and insulted the on-duty police.
At 3.30pm the same day, My Yen parish church suddenly tolled alerting bell, inciting thousands of Catholics to rush to the commune’s People’s Committee office. The extremists fought and threw stones at the police, injuring six officers.

In response to the situation, the competent forces on duty at the site had to apply measures in accordance with the law to disperse the crowd, stop the extreme acts and re-establish the order. At the same time, as a local bishop appeared to talk to the parishioners, the situation was basically stabilized at about 5.30pm. At 7.00pm the same day, the crowd dispersed.

On the basis of the findings from the investigation, Nghe An police on September 7 announced decisions on starting a criminal case against the incidents in Nghi Loc district’s Nghi Phuong commune on August 30, September 3 and 4 on the charges of causing public disorder, illegally detaining people, and resisting on-duty officials.

According to Colonel Cau, all those who give themselves up and admit their law-breaking actions will be released, and all those who deliberately violated the law and refused to give themselves up will be investigated, prosecuted and arrested for trial in accordance with the law.

It should be noted that 54 percent of the households in Nghi Phuong commune are Catholics. Under the Party and Government’s policies on socio-economic development and improvement of living conditions for locals, the local government has conducted various specific activities to help the parishioners improve their income and lead both good secular and religious life.

Like Nghi Phuong, Yen Thanh commune, which used to be a poor locality, has now also become one of the richest in Nghe An with hundreds of billionaires, many of them Catholics.

Another case in point is Catholic Hamlet Three in Nam Loc commune where half of the households were poor in 2007, but now it has only 10 poor households.

New rural areas are taking shape with many positive changes in the homeland of the beautiful melody of “Vi dam” songs.

For this reasons, the disorder in My Yen parish has caused outrage among Vietnamese people, both religious and non-religious, as it harmed the bonds among people living in the same village, affecting the social order as well as the local community’s tradition of solidarity.

Vice Chairman of the provincial People’s Committee Thai Van Hang affirmed: “In the Vietnamese revolution’s history, the Catholic community (in Nghe An) has made numerous contributions to the defence and construction of the country as well as of the home province of Nghe An.

“The law-breaking incident in Trai Gao parish was caused by only a number of people who lack understanding of law and were incited by some organisations and individuals inside and outside the country through several religious dignitaries that led them to misunderstanding the situation and committing law-breaking acts”.-VNA