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BosNewsLife (7/17/06) – There was mounting concern Saturday, July 15, over the situation of hundreds of Christian Degar Montagnard prisoners in Vietnam following reports that at least two of them have died because of torture.

The US-based Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI), which has close contacts with the Degar Montagnard community in Vietnam ‘s Central Highlands, told BosNewsLife that 42-year old Siu Dolel from Ploi Oi village in Gialai province and Siu Lul, 62, from the village of Ploi Kueng , in Gia Lai province both died after security forces and prison officials tortured them.

It is believed both men were jailed for activities related to their Christian faith. Secular human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have also expressed concerns over the treatment of prisoners in Vietnam .

MFI said the wife of Siu Dolel, from Ploi Oi village in Gialai province was informed on June 25 by Vietnamese officials visiting her house “that her husband had died in prison,” apparently as a result of injuries inflicted by torture in May.

Beatings

“They asked her if she wanted to see his body before burial. Unfortunately, his wife did not have money to go see him and so the officials then confiscated his identification card from her and left,” MFI told BosNewsLife.

MFI said it learned that in May 2006, “the prison authorities tortured him by kicking, boxing and beating him with electric batons until his right and left rib cage were broken.” He was previously tortured in Ha Nam prison just before Christmas on December 22, 2004, MFI investigators explained.

Earlier on April 24, Siu Lul “succumbed and died from the effects of torture and lack of water and food,” MFI said.

Funeral

The group said that on the day he died his wife “did not have money to transport her husband’s body back to her village so she agreed for her husband to be buried in Ha Nam .”

In May she reportedly asked Vietnamese authorities how to get her husband’s human remains back to her village “so that she could give him a Christian funeral.” However authorities allegedly told her that she “could not bring her husband bone back to her village until he finished his stipulated prison sentence,” MFI added. “In this kind of attitude,” the group said, “Vietnamese authorities really show their hatred toward Degar [Montagnard] people.”

Human rights investigators estimate over 350 Degar Montagnard prisoners remain in Vietnamese jails for their activities described by MFI as “merely standing up for human rights, for spreading Christianity or for fleeing to Cambodia .”

“Fabrications”

Vietnamese authorities have not reacted to the latest claims. But in the past Vietnam ’s Foreign Ministry called MFI’s reports about persecution “fabrications” and stressed that the “Montagnard Foundation spared no efforts to undermine the State of 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.

In July 2006 the US State Department maintained Vietnam on its “watch list” of countries that it says are among the “worst violators” of religious freedom. (With reports from Vietnam and BosNewsLife Research).