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Vietnam Security Forces Attack Massive Prayer Meetings in Central Highlands ; Dozens Injured

1/7/07 Vietnam (BosNewsLife) The Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI), which has close contacts with Montagnard Christians in Vietnam, said Sip, a man in his 30’s, was suffering “prolonged mistreatment, torture and beatings,” while being detained.

Sip, who is from Gia Lai province, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for attending a prayer vigil in 2004 and briefly released in January, as authorities feared he would die of his injuries, MFI said.”However security police have told him that if he regains his health he will be returned to serve out his prison term. Sip is currently crippled from his maltreatment and is unable to walk.”

The group told BosNewsLife that the man, “also suffers health problems related to his pancreas and heart complications. It is feared he will soon die and he requires urgent medical attention.”

STUDENT INJURED

Another Montagnard Christian, identified as 21-year-old student H’Nga Adrong, was reportedly arrested for the second time in as many months despite concerns over her health. In November she nearly died while being held in custody in Dak Nong province on charges of “possessing a cell phone,” MFI said.

She was “beaten and kicked until she was unconscious and had forced cold water down her throat. After 14 days of repeated abuse she almost died and authorities released her without medical attention,” MFI claimed. .

Her parents were reportedly forced to pay $1500 in medical expenses and the student was expelled from school. She was rearrested December 28 and apparently remained behind bars in Cu Jut prison Friday, January 5.

MFI suggested that the arrests came amid a fresh crackdown on devoted Montagnard Christians in the Central Highlands where security forces allegedly broke up massive Protestant and Catholic prayer meetings.

CATHOLICS ATTACKED

In one of the latest reported incidents security forces interrupted a prayer meeting of an estimated 2,000 Catholics in Ploi H’mong K’tu village in Kontum province on December 12.

“Vietnamese government police and soldiers then attacked them, beating the unarmed Christians with sticks and batons. Crowds of men, women, and children were driven into a ditch while children screamed and cried,” said MFI.

“Elderly men and women were beaten and many were dragged by police and soldiers to a river called Pak Ko.” It said that at least 65 villagers suffered injuries while one man, identified as A Theo, was “beaten unconscious.” At least 10 other villagers were listed in critical condition and needed “urgent medical assistance,” the group said.

The raid came shortly after an estimated 1500 Protestant Montagnard believers from the province of Dak To were targeted while they gathered November 30 at the village of Ploi H’mong K’tu , MFI recalled. As the Montagnard Christians were praying “Vietnamese police and soldiers from [nearby] Dak Ha District attacked them and dispersed the praying Christians.”

MFI reported that about 15 villagers were punched, kicked and beaten with bamboo sticks while a preacher, identified as A Tik, “was seriously injured.”

CHRISTIANS WARNED

Vietnamese security forces have reportedly warned Montagnard Christians not to gather for prayer meetings again. 41 motorbikes, tractors and vehicles belonging to Christians were also confiscated during the raids, investigators said.

Montagnards, or “mountain people”, are the indigenous peoples of the Central Highlands and human rights groups say they are often targeted by Vietnam ’s Communist government which accuses them of supporting US forces during the Vietnam War and following the ‘American’ religion of Christianity.

Authorities have also been angered by the refusal of many Montagnard Christians to join the official churches, as they allegedly lack Biblical teaching and are not focused on Jesus Christ.

MFI says at least 350 Montagnard prisoners, most of them Christians, are held in several prisons, often on charges related to spreading Christianity and for fleeing to neighboring Cambodia to escape persecution.

REPESSION CAMPAIGN

“Vietnamese soldiers continue with a campaign of repression” against the Montagnard population and villages throughout the Central Highlands “are subjected to occupation and brutal harassment from security police and soldiers,” MFI said.

Vietnam ’s government has strongly denied human rights abuses and says it respects religious freedom.

“As we have repeatedly made it clear Vietnam ‘s consistent policy is to respect and ensure its citizens’ rights to freedom of beliefs and religion and the rights to freedom of non-beliefs or religion,” said Vietnam Foreign Ministry Spokesman Le Dzung.

However he also admitted that, “The State cares for and facilitates the development of religions in Vietnam ,” adding that “religious activities of believers and religious officials are being carried out normally.”