By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife) -- Family members and friends expressed concerns Saturday, January 27, about the treatment of predominantly Christian Degar Montagnard prisoners in Vietnam some of whom have allegedly been severely tortured and forced to eat rice mixed with broken glass.
The Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI), an advocacy group representing Degar Montagnard people, told BosNewsLife that its 45-year-old supporter Ksor Daih from Ploi Ko village in Gialai province was blinded in one eye after being "subjected to repeated torture by beating and kicking."
Family members who managed to visit him for the first time in nearly three years at the TraiBa-Sao prison in Ha Nam province on January 9 "broke down in tears upon seeing his scars, bruises, gorged eye socket and battered body," but authorities "refused any personal contact," MFI said.
Ksor Daih was arrested in 2004 for participating in the 2001 "peaceful protest for religious rights and supporting the MFI," the group said. Prior to his detention he had reportedly been in hiding for over two years.
"During a sweeping operation he was captured and severely tortured. He was then sent to prison in Ha Nam province," MFI said.
In comments obtained by BosNewsLife, Daih claimed he had been "subjected to repeated torture by beating and kicking and that during one beating" he was blinded in one eye. "He can barely stand and it is greatly feared he may not live long," MFI warned, citing family members.
Another inmate in the same prison, 24-year-old Ksor Jak also from Ploi Ko village in Gailia province, met his family January 9 telling them that "guards forced him and the other Degar Montagnard inmates to eat rice mixed with broken glass," BosNewsLife learned.
Guards allegedly taunted the prisoners, saying they hoped "they would soon die." The incidents allegedly happened in November shortly before the Vietnam-visit of President George W. Bush, whose administration removed Vietnam from its list of 'Countries of Particular Concern' regarding religious rights abuses.
Like his fellow inmate, Jak was detained in 2004 for supporting the MFI and participating in 2001 demonstration for religious freedom. He had fled to the jungles but was captured on February 24, 2004 by Vietnamese soldiers, MFI said.
Family members were shocked to see his "leg was broken and disfigured from the torture he received by authorities," MFi said. Another MFI supporter and participant in the 2001 protest, Ksor Har, 53, from Ploi Ia-Gri village in Gialai province, was allegedly also tortured recently.
He too remains in the prison called Trai Ba-Sao in Ha-Nam province, after being arrested in2004. "On January 9, 2007, his family visited him and saw his extremely poor condition including having his left ear hanging in threads almost torn by a torture session," MFI said.
Har reported "being tortured many times with guards regularly torturing him by pulling and interfering with his wounded ear." Har "passed out unconscious many time due to the pain," said MFI citing the inmate and family members.
Human rights groups have linked the reported abuses by Communist authorities to anger overThe Degar Montagnard people's support for American forces during the Vietnam War and anger over the spread of Christianity among them.
The Communist government has also been accused of trying to take over Montagnard-Degar properties and lands. MFI and other organizations have said urged the international community to place human rights monitors in Vietnam's Central Highlands. At least 350 predominantly Christian Degar Montagnard people remain imprisoned, MFI said.
The Vietnamese government has denied human rights abuses and that it even praises Catholics. On Thursday, January 25, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Pope Benedict XVI met at the Vatican, the first ever such meeting between a Vietnamese leader and the spiritual leader of the world's Catholics.
Vietnam's Foreign Ministry said in Hanoi that during the meeting, the Vatican's Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone proposed establishing full diplomatic relations. The Foreign Ministry said the prime minister described Vietnam's Catholics as a "God-loving and patriotic community that has made active contributions to national construction and development".
Human rights groups point out however that the government tries to control churches and is cracking down on Christians, including Degar Montagnard believers, who refuse to worship in Communist-backed churches. (With BosNewsLife News Center, reports from Vietnam and the Vatican).
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