Vietnam "Tortures" Christian Montagnards For Refusing to Worship Ho Chi Minh

Thursday, March 16, 2006

HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife) -- Representatives of Vietnam's embattled Degar Montagnard Christians remained concerned Wednesday, March 15, over the whereabouts of fellow believers who they said were tortured and detained by security forces for refusing "to abandon Christianity" by joining a government church "which worships [Communist leader] Ho Chi Minh."

The Degar, referred to by French colonists as Montagnard or "mountain people", are the indigenous peoples of the Central Highlands, but have been accused by Vietnam's authorities of observing "an American religion" and of cooperating with American troops during the Vietnam War.

The US-based advocacy organization Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI), which is also active in Vietnam through several contacts, told BosNewsLife that this month several believers were detained and abused in the Central Highlands area and said groups of believers are now hiding in the jungle.

MFI said the problems began March 2 when "the Vietnamese government committee from Ia Ko commune summoned our Christian Brother Siu Phon, 46, " from the village of Plei Sur in Cu Se district of GiaLai province to meet with them at their local office. "The authorities initially spoke kindly to him about why he refused to join the official government recognized church but then took him to the police station at Cu Se district in Gialai province," the group explained.


MFI said however that "the police tortured Siu Phon by repeatedly punching and kicking him until he lost control of his bowels and he collapsed unconscious on the prison floor covered in his own excrement." It claimed that Siu Phon "refused to abandon Christianity and refused to join the church that is recognized by the government." He is now imprisoned at the prison facility in Cu Se district "and the condition of his health is unknown."

On March 5, Siu Thit, 43, from the same Plei Sur village was also summoned to arrive at what is known as the local "commune office," MFI investigators reported. "After he arrived there with his wife, the believer was allegedly arrested by police "for refusing to join the official government recognized Church," they said in a statement.

"Police took him to the police station at Cu Se district in Gialai province and sent his wife away. It is unknown what has happened to Siu Thit at this time but it is feared he was tortured like Siu Phon above. He is now imprisoned at the prison facility in Cu Se district," said MFI.

On March 7, 2006 the Vietnamese government committee from the same region ordered five other Christians from Plei Sur village to meet with them. They were identified as Rmah Anoc, 27, Rmah Plik, 47, Rmah Kul, 34, Rmah Suaih, 32, and Kpa Huin, 30.


"These five Christian Montagnards knew what had happened to Siu Phon and Siu Thit and fearing torture they did not attend the commune meeting. The commune committee then sent police to arrest them in their village and the police ransacked the houses in Plei Sur village searching for them. Unable to locate the five Christians the police then threatened the villagers and their families. These five Christians are now on the run and it is greatly feared they will be tortured or killed if found by police," MFI added.

MFI said the government had tried on February 2 with what it called "public relations ceremonies" to inaugurate an official church built for the Montagnard people at Plei Batel of Ia Hru commune in the Cu Se district of Gialai province.

The group noted that the officials included Montagnard government Church leaders, identified as Siu Pek and Siu Kim and a Vietnamese government official, Thay Hung. “Many Vietnamese” from Ho Chi Minh City reportedly came to join them at the service. "Siu Kim, a Montagnard working for the government led the service and had invited 10,000 Montagnard Christians in the area to participate in the dedication ceremony. Only a few followers of Siu Kim came to the ceremony however, and inside the church the officials placed a big picture of Ho Chi Minh and the national flag."


MFI noted that they "started the opening service by worshipping Ho Chi Minh,” singing songs praising the late leader, "and then telling stories how brave the Vietnamese people are for defeating the French and Americans in the wars." Soon after Siu Kim reportedly started to preach "but the Montagnards then commenced leaving the church one by one, not happy with Ho Chi Minh’s picture being placed in the Church."

The Degar Montagnard Christians who attended the Church reported to MFI that they did not see a picture of Jesus, or Mary or the cross at the Church ceremony. "They were also told they are not allowed to place a cross on graves of their relatives, but only flowers. The authorities told the Montagnard Christians that anyone who places a cross on a grave will be arrested, " MFI claimed.

There was no immediate reaction from Vietnamese officials. However recently the Vietnamese government denied claims of human rights abuses made by MFI and other secular organizations such as Amnesty International. "The Vietnamese Government always respects and protects human rights including the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of press and freedom of religion and beliefs," said the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Le Dzung when asked by reporters about persecution allegations.

MFI stressed that "the Degar Montagnard people respect Vietnamese leaders such as Ho Chi Minh but they will refuse to worship him as their god and they will not tolerate his picture in Church. The Montagnard Degar people do not become Christian because they want to overthrow the government of Vietnam or demand independence," MFI added.


"The Bible teaches Christians to do morally right things and to be good citizens that respect their government. Thus the Vietnamese communist government should cease all religious persecution and interference in Montagnard religious affairs."

MFI has blamed the Vietnamese communist government for what it calls "religious repression" amounting to “creeping genocide” towards the Montagnard Degar people. "They threaten Montagnards with arrest and torture, forcing our people to hide in the jungles. Then the Vietnamese government uses this as an excuse to conduct sweeping operations giving their soldiers the right to persecute and even kill our people. It is not enough for them to confiscate our ancestral farmlands but it seems the Vietnamese government policy is also to repress us so they can force us into poverty in order to eliminate our people and our livelihood."

MFI said it has urged the United States Government, the European Union, and the United Nations to insist Vietnam ceases "all religious persecution" before it be granted entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO).

It also wants the international community to demand that all Degar Montagnard prisoners are fully accounted for and released from Vietnamese prisons. In addition MFI wants demands that human rights monitors will receive access to the Central Highlands before the country joins the WTO. Of the roughly 1-million Degar Montagnard people, close to half are Protestant, while around 200,000 are Catholic, according to estimates. (With BosNewsLife Research, BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos and reports from Vietnam).

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