Vietnam Jails 13 Montagnard House Church Christians

Monday, July 16, 2007

By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife

HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife) -- Vietnam sentenced 13 Degar Montagnards, a major ethnic group in the country's volatile Central Highlands, to prison terms of up to 15 years for "being House Church Christians" and their involvement in religious rights campaigns, representatives said Sunday, July 15.

Topping the security forces most wanted list were K'Pa Binh, 31, and K’Pa Cin, 42, who received 15 years imprisonment each last month from a court in Gia Lai province for their involvement in the Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI), which demands more rights for the predominantly Christian Degar Montagnards, and for "possessing mobile phones," MFI officials said. Details of the June sentences only emerged this weekend.

Binh was detained in September last year on an arrest warrant related to his participation in what rights watchers described as "a peaceful [pro-democracy] demonstration of Easter 2004". He has been held at T-20 prison in the central town of Pleiku. On June 1, charges were apparently changed and he received the 15 years prison term. Fellow Christian and rights activist Cin, who was held since November last year in the same prison, received a similar sentence, MFI added.

Other house church Christians, most of whom are held since last year in the notorious T-20 prison, include Rmah Ca, 35, from the province's Ploi Tao Ko village, who received nine years for being an active House Church Christian, the group said. He was detained in May last year after fleeing to the jungles in November 2004 to avoid arrest.


Siu Blok, 54, a Degar Montagnard Christian from Ploi Breng 1 village of Gia Lai province who was sentenced to eight years imprisonment "for preaching and spreading Christianity," and being active in a House Church, MFI told BosNewsLife. His fellow Christian, Siu Ho, 28, from Ploi Tao Ko village was also sentence to eight years imprisonment. He was detained in November 2006, following last two years of hiding in jungles to avoid arrest on charges of "involvement in a peaceful demonstrations and for being a House Church Christian," MFI said.

Puih Alum, 57, and Rcom Wit, who are also from Gia Lai province, were sentenced both to seven years imprisonment "for being a House Church Christian," said MFI, which has close contacts with Christians in the Central Highlands. Two other Degar Montragnard Christians from the province, identified as Ksor Phong, 35, and Puih Hih, 32, were both received six years on charges of "being a House Church Christian", while Hih was also accused of supporting the MFI, the group said.

The only known woman among those detained, Nai H’Ngat, 32, from Kli Kia village, of Gia Lai province was sentenced to six years imprisonment for being a house church Christian and helping refugees, MFI said. The group claimed H'Ngat the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) "forcibly" returned her to Vietnam on July 20, 2005, because she had failed her interview for refugee status.

"Subsequently one year later on June 15, 2006 Vietnamese security police arrested her." UNHCR officials have however denied wrongdoing and say the situation of Degar Montagnards has improved
in some areas.


It claims that the Vietnamese government "assured both Cambodian officials and UNHCR that the returning Montagnards will be well treated well and not be the subject of reprisals or discriminatory treatment."

MFI has said however that at least 350 Degar Montagnards, mainly Christians, have been detained in prisons across Vietnam. The crackdown has been linked to both their activities as Christians and Degar Montagnards' support for US forces during the Vietnam War.

The latest list of prisoners released by MFI did not yet include names of three House Church Christians who were also sentenced during two trial hearings on June 1 and June 3, but MFI said it was trying to obtain these details. Vietnamese officials have accused the group of spreading propaganda and denied any wrongdoing. Vietnam's government says it only acts against activists who it believes harm the Communist-run state. (With BosNewsLife News Center, BosNewsLife Research and reporting from Vietnam).

Copyright 2007 BosNewsLife. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without our prior written consent.