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Vietnam ‘s Unexpected Amnesty Gives Hope For Christian Prisoners

By BosNewsLife News Center

Some Vietnamese Christians are forced to worship in a cave to avoid detection and imprisonment, rights groups say.

9/26/06 Vietnam (BosNewsLife) Deputy Prime Minister Truong Vinh Trong, who is also president of the Central Amnesty Advisory Council, has given all prisons and other detention facilities till October 5, and other authorities till October 5 to compile a list of prisoners eligible for the president’s amnesty, reported Vietnam’s state-run media.

The release of prisoners is expected to take place on October 30 and 31. The amnesty will take place just days before crucial votes on trade are held in the US Congress, and ahead of a visit by President George W. Bush to Hanoi.

The president of the Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI), a group representing the predominantly Christian Montagnard Degar community in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, had earlier urged the United States to pressure Vietnam.


“We as the Degar Montagnard people would like to appeal to all governments especially the United States who are now dealing with Vietnam in trade and business to please do what they can to prevent our people from dying in prison,” MFI President Kok Ksor told BosNewsLife.

There are no accurate figures for the total number of dissidents imprisoned, but human rights campaigners talk of around hundreds in jail. At least 350 of them are Montagnard Degar Christians, said MFI. Many of them have been imprisoned for their Christian faith or attempts to flee Vietnam because of persecution, the group claims.

There have been several reports of torture. In the latest case, on August 30, “our Christian Brother, Thup, died in Trai Ba Sao prison in Ha Nam due to severe torture,” MFI told BosNewsLife in a statement.


“He was born in 1952 and from Plei Dop village…[in] GiaLai province. He was arrested on March 24, 2004 and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on February 24, 2005 for what Vietnam calls “public order offences.” Unnamed Vietnamese officials from Kon Gang Commune informed his family he died from abuse on August 30, 2006,” the group added.

His wife and relatives asked officials if they collect his body for burial but were allegedly refused this request. “On September 1, his village buried his clothes instead and mourned for him according to our customs.”

MFI hopes that with the upcoming amnesty new torture cases can be prevented. Vietnam usually grants amnesties to what it calls “well-behaved and repentant” prisoners twice a year – for national day in September and the Tet holiday in January. This year’s third opportunity for prisoners was to clear up “outstanding” and “sensitive” cases, the deputy prime minister said in published remarks.

But analysts say the timing seems odd, as the US Congress is being asked to vote on what are called permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) two weeks later. Just after that, President Bush will make his first visit to Vietnam to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Summit.