BANGKOK, Thailand -- Communist Vietnam's police clashed with hundreds of Catholics who were demanding two parishioners be released from prison, resulting in what was described as "one of the bloodiest religious crackdowns in recent years."

Government-controlled "television reported that about 300 people mobbed the Nghi Phuong village people's committee building," near Vinh city in Nghe An province on September 4, according to Washington-based, U.S. federally-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA).

Protesters "attacking" police with stones, injured one police officer and provoked the crackdown, Nghe An TV reported.

Police also fired into the air to disperse the crowd.

"They [police] fired 15 shots in front of the My Yen church. They beat some parishioners with electric batons," one protester told RFA's Vietnamese Service.

"Some parishioners had to be hospitalized. They also arrested nine to 10 people."

RFA said it was "one of the bloodiest religious crackdowns in recent years in Vietnam".

The activist Vietnamese Redemptorists News provided what it described as a photograph of an injured protester lying in a hospital in northern coastal Nghe An province, which has a large Catholic community.

One day earlier, on September 3, about 1,000 people gathered near the site at My Yen church carrying banners and demanding the release of Ngo Van Khoi, 53, and Nguyen Van Hai, 43, who were arrested on June 27, RFA said.

Government media said the two Catholic men were imprisoned for "causing public disorder, injuring local officials and destroying public property," according to the Hong Kong-based Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN).

UCA News

Their violations appear to be linked to a confrontation on May 22 by Catholics who became angry when they were blocked from visiting a local shrine of St. Anthony, UCAN reported.

"The Vietnamese government continues to imprison individuals for religious activity or religious freedom advocacy," the Washington-based U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in its 2013 annual report.


"It uses a specialized religious police force and vague national security laws to suppress independent Buddhist, Protestant, Hoa Hao, and Cao Dai activities, and seeks to stop the growth of ethnic minority Protestantism and Catholicism via discrimination, violence and forced renunciations of their faith," the U.S. federal government commission said.

In January, a court in Vinh sentenced 13 people, most of them Catholics, to prison for between three and 13 years for plotting with the Viet Tan, a U.S.-based anti-communist group, to overthrow Vietnam's one-party regime, the British Broadcasting Corp (BBC) reported.


"The sentences are among the harshest given to any political dissident in Vietnam in recent years," BBC's Vietnamese service reported.

Catholics comprise about 7 percent of Vietnam's 93 million population, compared to 10 percent who are Buddhists and 80 percent who officially have no religious affiliation, according to the CIA World Factbook.


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

His websites are:

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(Copyright 2013 Richard S Ehrlich)