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Monday, 13 August 2012

Free Maria Ta Phong Tan!


Maria Ta Phong Tan was a Communist policewoman in Vietnam. She became a dissident, a blogger and a Catholic. She is part of the Free Vietnamese Journalists' Club. On 5 September last year, like fellow bloggers Nguyen Van Hai and Phan Thanh Hai, she was arrested for posting articles that supposedly distorted and opposed the Communist government. Her trial was supposed to have taken place on 7 August but we await further news of that: the trial has been delayed before with no information given to family members of the reason for delay.

In a letter to new converts, Maria Tan spoke of her childhood and adolescence when she was brainwashed by the communist youth organizations to believe that Catholicism was against Vietnamese culture and family values. She went to law school and joined the firm owned by attorney Vu Tran Luat who defended eight Catholic parishioners from Thai Ha parish who were on trial for protecting their parish’s properties back in 2008. She realised that Vietnamese Catholics had been misrepresented, and severely mistreated, and became drawn to the Catholic Church and its teaching. She became a Catholic and committed herself to the cause of the Church. She was baptized by a Redemptorist priest and attended Mass regularly until she was arrested.

After her arrest, Maria Tan said:
“I have never panicked when faced with dishonesty and deceitfulness. I always see God smiling, calling me to walk by him. Let us give thanks to God, to the Mother of God, and to the Church which has given us faith and life.”
Maria Tan regularly contributed to the Công Lý Và Sự Thật (Truth and Justice) blog which you can see via Multiply: suthatcongly.multiply.com. She also contributed to the Redemptorist website Truyền Thông Chúa Cứu (Christian Communication - Wordpress blog with RSS feed here). Substantial articles with news and comment (and photos) are also available at the Dân Làm Báo (People Reporting) Blog which is hosted outside Vietnam.

Obviously all of these blogs are in Vietnamese but Google translate makes a passable job of translating them. (I have put them on the blogroll.) Truyền Thông Chúa Cứu also has a good background article in English describing the violent harrassment of the church in Hanoi. Imprisoned Catholic blogger’s mother sets herself on fire to protest kangaroo court.

Sadly, Dang Thi Kim Lieng, 64, Maria Tan's mother, set fire to herself in protest and died on her way to the hospital in in Ho Chi Minh City. This ritual form of protest has been unknown in Vietnam since the 1970s. We know, of course, that self-immolation is morally wrong, but given the extreme psychological distress of mind of Dang Thi Kim Lieng (who is not a Catholic herself) we should pray for the repose of her soul, as well as praying for Maria Tan in the sadness that this incident will bring to her.

Western news outlets have picked up on the story but the Guardian report is typical in its careful omission of Maria Tan's Catholicity. Vietnamese names can be given in various ways - Ta Phong Tan is one variant. I use Maria Tan, following the Redemptorist report since the baptismal name "Maria" seems to be invisible in many Western articles.

Even so, it is clear that the Communist government in Vietnam should be cowering in embarrassment now that the world's media has found out about this woeful episode of weak and corrupt leadership. What disgrace has been brought to the good Vietnamese people by the abuse of power and the cowardly fear of free speech! Politicians should be able to answer with reason if they think someone has distorted what they say; they should be able to cope with opposition. Hang your heads in shame and allow the good citizens of Vietnam to speak the truth in freedom! Free Maria Ta Phong Tan!

H/T for the original lead to the print edition of the Catholic Herald
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