By BosNewsLife News Center
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife) -- Six Evangelical Christians of Vietnam’s Montagnard Degar minority were facing another tense day Wednesday, June 28, after a court reportedly jailed them on charges of inciting religious unrest and organizing illegal border crossings to neighboring Cambodia.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) quoted an official at the Dak Nong Province People's Court as saying that the men from the Central Highlands region were sentenced to between five and seven years in prison for "violating solidarity policies and organizing illegal migration."
The Vietnam News Agency reportedly said that the evangelical Christians from the Montagnard Degar community “incited almost 300 people to protest," apparently against the government. They were arrested as they and 16 others tried to cross the border to Cambodia last October, ABC said.
Vietnamese officials claimed the six had planned to either set up an independent state or "flee to Cambodia in groups with an accusation that the Vietnamese state violated human rights and repressed religions." Their names were not released.
In an angry worded statement obtained by BosNewsLife, representatives of the Montagnard Dagar people rejected Vietnam’s accusations. "Vietnam’s repeated allegations that Montagnard Degar people are seeking an independent state are baseless,” said Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI). "The indigenous Montagnard Degar Peoples have suffered decades of persecution by the government of Vietnam, namely; confiscation of their ancestral lands, Christian religious repression, torture, killings and imprisonment..."
In addition, "to date over 350 Montagnard Degar prisoners remain in Vietnamese prisons for charges involving merely standing up for human rights, for spreading Christianity or for fleeing to Cambodia. As part of the Vietnamese Government’s policy Vietnamese soldiers continue with a campaign of brutal repression and religious persecution of Montagnards," claimed MFI, an advocacy groups with close contacts in the Central Highlands.
In June 2006, the US State Department continued to maintain Vietnam on its "watch list" of countries it says are the “worst violators” of religious freedom. News the latest detentions came shortly after Reports of the arrest came shortly after earlier this month Secular and Christian investigators condemned the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for not doing enough to ensure the safety of predominantly Christian Degar Montagnards returning from Cambodia to Vietnam where they are "detained, interrogated and even tortured."
In a report obtained by BosNewsLife, the US-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Communist government of Vietnam is violating an agreement with the UNHCR. "More than 60 Montagnards have been imprisoned after being forcibly returned from Cambodia, where they were seeking asylum."
HRW said it therefore urged the UNHCR to "review its participation in promoting and facilitating voluntary repatriation, given the disturbing accounts of mistreatment of returnees, as well as weaknesses in UNHCR's monitoring mechanisms."
The UNHCR rejected the charges. “Frankly, we find the report unbalanced and reject its accusations. The allegations do not tally with our first-hand experience of the Montagnard caseload in Cambodia, nor with our 12 monitoring missions to visit returnees in the Central Highlands of Vietnam," said UNHCR Spokesman Ron Redmond.
However MFI President suggested the international community could do more to protect minorities. He especially urged the United States Congress to help “ensure that the respect of human rights, the release of all Montagnard Degar prisoners and a permanent monitoring presence of independent NGOs in the Central Highlands, are conditions directly linked to any granting of Permanent Normal Trade Relations to Vietnam."
Rights groups have linked the reported persecution to claims made by Vietnamese authorities that Degar Montagnards are following a "Western religion" and supported US forces during the Vietnam War. Of the roughly 1-million Degar Montagnard people, close to half are Protestant, while around 200,000 are Catholic, according to estimates.
Reports of persecution come amid a leadership change in Vietnam. On Tuesday, June 27, the newly appointed president selected the country's next prime minister. Nguyen Minh Triet, Communist Party chief for Ho Chi Minh City, was approved as president by the country's National Assembly, winning 94 per cent of the votes.
NEW PRIME MINISTER
Triet then nominated Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, 56, to become the next prime minister. He was elected to the post with an overwhelming 92 per cent of the National Assembly vote. Both men were the sole candidates for the jobs.
In Vietnam's Communist-led one-party state, the prime minister is in charge of overseeing the government, while the president holds a more ceremonial position. The country's most powerful leader is the head of the Communist Party, Nong Duc Manh. Manh was retained in April.
Over the weekend, the legislature approved the resignation of outgoing Prime Minister Phan Van Khai as well as President Tran Duc Luong and National Assembly chairman Nguyen Van An. Luong and Khai are retiring after holding their posts since 1997. (With reports from Vietnam and BosNewsLife Research).
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