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Hundreds Demonstrate Outside Vietnamese Embassy Demanding Freedom

By Scott Johnson, Advisor to the Montagnard Foundation

4/27/07 Vietnam (Assist News Service) — “Those who are hostile and extremely resistant treat them severely and publicly denounce them to the citizens explaining their activities of destroying the country, dividing the ethnic groups, and their other illegal actions.” Vietnamese Government Document, Central Bureau of Religious Affairs, Training Document Hanoi 2006

Montagnard Foundation members playing traditional gongs at US Capital Washington DC. Call for Religious and political freedoms in Vietnam .

On Friday the 20th of April 2007 hundreds of Degar Montagnards, Cambodians and Hmong peoples gathered outside the US Capital in Washington DC before eventually descending on the Vietnamese Embassy. Degar Montagnards in loin clothes beat ancient tribal gongs while Cambodian monks in Orange Robes and Hmong in tribal dress issued statements calling for freedom in Vietnam .

It was a demonstration aimed directly against the Vietnamese communist government and yet it was also a plea for the United States to use its diplomatic leverage to help its former allies – the oppressed peoples of South East Asia . The participants include the Montagnard Foundation representing the Degar Montagnards of Vietnam’s Central Highlands , the ethnic Cambodian’s of the Mekong Delta region represented by the Khmer Kampuchea-Krom Federation and the Hmong peoples represented by the World Hmong People’s Congress.

Demonstrators of the Montagnard Foundation, Khmer Kampuchea Kron Federation and World Hmong Peoples’ Congress pray for greater freedoms in Vietnam .

The demonstration was all around a peaceful one and the Montagnard Foundation even held Christian prayer services. Yet this protest has little to do with peace in the eyes of the communist regime in Hanoi . The Vietnamese Embassy officials in Washington remained silent and only once did they open the window on the fourth floor to take photographs of the demonstrators below. However, in Vietnam’s Central and Northern Highlands, in the Mekong Delta and in neighboring Laos there is a “secret war” being waged against the region’s indigenous minority populations there and in particular the Christian house Church movement by the regime in Hanoi. This covert war is actually waged against the entire population of Vietnam as the communist politburo brutally represses any vestige of emerging political freedoms.

Over 350 Degar Montagnards remain today in Vietnam ‘s prisons where they suffer brutal conditions…and yet in the mainstream media their suffering remains buried in silence. In Vietnam, foreign tourists wander bustling street markets and sunbathe on the beach as Vietnam’s ancient tribal peoples rot in brutal prisons or are cruelly tortured with electric shock by the dreaded security police the “Cong An”. All the while the international community lauds Vietnam ‘s economic success and espouses the country as an affordable holiday destination.

Hanoi ‘s war of repression is nonetheless quite real and recently resulted in what Human Rights Watch calls “the severest crackdown in years”.

Leading up to accession to the WTO last year we had seen that Vietnam had made “alleged” progress with religious freedoms and was improving its human rights reforms. Now, we know these were lies and unfortunately the worst scenario happened – Vietnam was granted Permanent Normal Trade Relations with the US, then got into the WTO and then – they did as the critics feared – they reverted back to their old ways of violating human rights by arresting, torturing and killing people. Congressional Representatives such as Chris Smith, Zoe Lofgren, Frank Wolf, Ed Royce, Loretta Sanchez and Dana Rohrabacher condemned the renewed crackdown by the Vietnamese regime and the US Embassy this month called the crackdown “disturbing”. The Vietnamese regime has also used the pretext of religious reform to control the people using torture and imprisonment to force Degar Montagnards to join the official government controlled Church.

This “secret war” waged against those advocating political and religious reform in Vietnam thus is really “not so secret” as it is more accurately just not given adequate coverage by the mainstream media. Likewise many governments spurred by their domestic trade agenda with Vietnam appear to minimalize the repression going on inside Vietnam . “Economic engagement” is after all one of the catchphrases used by those advocating economic relations with Vietnam .

Degar Montagnards outside Vietnamese Embassy demand release of their people – 350 Degar prisoners of Conscience who were imprisoned for peacefully protesting against religious repression and lack of land rights, for fleeing to Cambodia or for being members of the house Church movement.

The problem with the “economic engagement” scenario however, lies herein that those in power do everything they can to remain in power. In the short term “economic engagement” is nothing but a death sentence for the dissidents and human rights defenders who speak out against repression. Comparisons with China for example have shown trade concessions have yet to yield any significant political freedoms as the country remains an authoritarian state that crushes dissent with brutal efficiency.

The communist government of Vietnam is no different and has likewise engaged capitalism with enthusiasm while the government controlled press spits out vitriolic anti capitalist babble and arrests, tortures and kills enemies of the state to repel its greatest fear – “Peaceful evolution by hostile forces”.

“Peaceful evolution” is the catchphrase used by the communists to describe the undermining of communism. Strange one would argue how the words “peaceful” and “evolution” conjure up such loathing by the Hanoi regime. But not so strange to those who know the regime in Hanoi seeks the benefits of a market economy without accepting the political freedoms inherent to a capitalist economy.

In Washington the demonstrating groups outside the Vietnamese Embassy know this and gathered together to send a message of protest to the dictators in Hanoi . The demonstrators have something else in common as they were allies with the US during the Vietnam War and since 1975 have suffered severely under Vietnamese communist rule.

In July 2006 a Montagnard Degar named Y Ngo Adrong was beaten to death in police custody in Vietnam and the US State Department described his death as an “extrajudicial killing”. In Laos military operations waged by Laotian and Vietnamese soldiers continue against the Hmong peoples who are desperately hiding in the remote regions of the country. In Vietnam ‘s Mekong Delta security police arrest, threaten and disrobe ethic Khmer monks. Democracy advocates, Buddhist monks, Catholic priests and internet users throughout Vietnam face torture, arrest and lengthy prison terms as House church Christians are brutally tortured in a desperate measure to control the population.

Vietnam is a nation with boundless potential, but the years of communist leadership has kept the country stagnant and population poor. The regime has brutally repressed its minorities and indigenous peoples and sold their citizens and the international community a collection of lies and corrupt ideals whose goal is to preserve the power elite.

In Washington DC outside the Vietnamese Embassy Kok Ksor, President of the Montagnard Foundation addressed the crowd stating “all of us here today must continue to stand firm and speak out to ensure that human rights, religious freedom and democracy eventually reaches all the imprisoned people who live in Vietnam.”

He is right. “Peace and Evolution” are in fact exactly what the communist regime in Vietnam needs.