Vietnam Police Break Up Peasant Protests; Christians Attacked In Highlands

Thursday, July 19, 2007

By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent with reporting from Vietnam

HO CHI MIN CITY/HANOI (BosNewsLife) -- Hundreds of people were detained as Vietnamese special police forces broke up a massive peasant demonstration for land rights in Ho Chi Min City late Wednesday, July 18, while in the Central Highlands a security crackdown on Degar Montagnard Christians continued, several leading dissidents and investigators told BosNewsLife.

"At around 10 PM [local time] police began to violently suppress Vietnamese peasants as they protest for their land rights," Tran Nam, a representative of the underground People's Democratic Party, told BosNewsLife.

"Thousands of police have surrounded the protesters, firing tear gas and spraying water into the crowd. Hundreds of organizers and protesters are being arrested and taken to unknown locations," he added.

Since June 22, "thousands of peasants from Southern provinces" traveled to Ho Chi Min City, formerly known as Saigon, many of them camping outside the Vietnamese National Assembly offices to protest the apparent seizure of their land by the Communist government.

"Due to corruption, unlawful and arbitrary land policy, thousands of Vietnamese peasants have lost their land, homes and other properties. Many are living homeless, poor and hungry while corrupt government officials continue to pocket peasants' compensation to fund their lavish life style," said Sy Hoang, president of the International Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (IMDHR) for Vietnam, a group made up of exiles and dissidents.


Pham Linh, a spokesperson of the United Workers-Farmers Organization of Vietnam (UWFOV), told BosNewsLife the rights group supports the demonstrators as its own members have suffered under alleged oppression.

"Members of UWFOV have been jailed, placed on warrant lists and suffered extreme intimidation, including Tran Quoc Hien, Nguyen Tan Hoanh, Tran Thi Le Hang, Doan Van Dien and Doan Huy Chuong. However, the UWFOV will...continue to struggle for the right to form independent labor unions and work for justice for farmers who suffer of government corruption," the spokesperson added.

Vietnamese officials have denied human rights abuses. The reported riots in Ho Chi Minh City came amid fresh allegations that police forces also target predominantly Christian Degar Montagnards in the country's tense Central Highlands, many of whom fight lost lands.

In the latest incident, two small children in Dak Nong province were without their Christian parents Wednesday, July 18, after their young mother H’Thui Ya, 29, from Buon U village, was sentenced to three years and seven months imprisonment for fleeing to neighboring Cambodia, rights activists said.


The June sentencing , details of which emerged only Wednesday, July 18, came after her husband Y-Thot Butrang, 45, was sentenced to 11 years in imprisonment for fleeing to Cambodia in 2002, said the Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI) in a statement to BosNewsLife.

Y-Thot Butrang and H’Thui Ya are Degar Montagnard Christians had fled repression in Vietnam’s Central Highlands in 2001, claimed MFI, a major advocacy group with close contacts in the Central Highlands.

"They crossed the Cambodian border and soon became refugees residing in the United Nations refugee camp in Mondolkiri province, Cambodia. In 2001 and 2002 Vietnamese officials came into the camp and announced that Vietnam would not harm any refugees who returned back to Vietnam," MFI said.

In 2002 the couple apparently decided to go back to Vietnam where they were soon "tortured" and jailed, the group claimed, adding that their "their children were abandoned by police," while their parents were harassed.


Their daughter H’Phiwana, 5, and son Y-Tuwani, 4, first faced abandonment in December, 2006, when authorities arrested their mother, leaving the two children at home alone, MFI said.

"The authorities did not tell anyone where she was held and her two children cried often suffering from distress at having both parents taken away." On Christmas day two women from the family's villages discovered the children and began searching for their mother.

Only in may they discovered that she was held in a prison, MFI said, citing sources in the region. "H’Thui Ya could barely walk as she had been permanently chained to stocks with her legs chained between two logs. She had also been beaten and tortured in prison. Her face was pale as she had been deprived of food, her legs bruised and swollen. When she met with her children, all of them burst into tears and they cried as they were happy to see each other."

Police allegedly allowed her to see her children only 30 minutes and then "dragged her away"back to prison cell number 5, MFI said. She was reportedly sentenced on June 1. Another Christian Degar Montagnard woman was also sentenced the same day for fleeing to Cambodia, the group added. 32-year-old Nai H’Ngat from Kli Kia village in Gia Lai received six years imprisonment after a brief trial in which "numerous security police testified against" her, MFI added.


"Nai H’Ngat came from Cambodia back to Vietnam because she had failed her interview for refugee status. Subsequently one year later on June 15, 2006 Vietnamese security police arrested her because she was a House Church Christian and had previously harbored refugees who had fled arrest."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) allegedly forced her to return, but the organization has previously played down similar accusations.

The UNHCR has said it reached a deal with Vietnamese authorities not to prosecute returning Degar Montagnards. Vietnam has accused the MFI and other groups of spreading "false propaganda", but rights watchers counter that the facts on the ground confirm that the government is not meeting its international obligations.

At least 350 mainly Christian Degar Montagnards are believed to be held in prisons across Vietnam along with other believers and political activists. (With BosNewsLife Research).

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