Following the detention of 14 Christians in January of this year, a court in the Mon Province of the Central Highlands of Vietnam sentenced eight more Christians to up to 11 year prison terms for their alleged affiliation with an underground Catholic Church. Though freedom of religious expression and association is guaranteed by the Vietnamese Constitution, religious institutions are mandated to register with the communist state party and to ensure religious actions must meet state sanctions—the basis upon which Vietnam has justified “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” persecution of Christians for decades. As human rights activists and groups continue to rise up and speak out regarding violations of religious freedom and human rights in Vietnam, the state continues to punish innocent Christians with arbitrary detention, violent attacks, and subjection to torture and other cruel methods of punishment.
05/30/2013 Vietnam (Radio Free Asia) – A court in Vietnam’s Central Highlands on Wednesday sentenced eight ethnic minority Montagnards affiliated with an unregistered Catholic church to between three and 11 years in prison for “undermining unity” in the authoritarian state.
The Gia Lai provincial court said some of the eight had worked with a banned exile organization to establish an independent state for indigenous peoples in the Central Highlands, according to state media.
The others were accused of inciting thousands of protesters to demonstrate against their relocation from their village to make way for a power plant in 2008.
All eight—who are between 32 and 73 years old—were convicted under Article 87 of the penal code, a national security provision that forbids “undermining the [national] unity policy” by “sowing division” or ethnic or religious hatred.
Vietnam’s Central Highlands are home to some 30 tribes of indigenous peoples, known collectively as Montagnards or the Degar, who rights groups say suffer extreme persecution.
In the early 2000s, thousands in the region staged violent protests against the confiscation of their ancestral lands and religious controls, prompting a brutal crackdown by security forces that saw hundreds of Montagnards charged with national security crimes.
Scott Johnson of the Montagnard Foundation, a U.S.-based rights group, said Vietnam’s jailing of members of the ethnic minority for national security crimes and linking them to alleged overseas separatist groups was unjustified.
“In reality all these ethnic people … want are indigenous land rights and basic human rights,” he said.
“They are not terrorists, they are not separatists, and they do not seek an independent state.”
“Basically the Vietnamese government is seeking to crush the independent underground house church movement [in the region],” he said.
Ha Mon Catholics
According to previous Human Rights Watch reports, Runh, Jonh, and Byuk were taken into custody in May last year for being associated with the unregistered Ha Mon Catholic sect, which Y Gyin founded around 1999.
The group said that authorities have painted the Ha Mon sect as a “false religion” that is being taken advantage of by FULRO to undermine national security.
While Protestant Montagnards have faced religious repression for many years, Catholic Montagnards have more recently become a target for persecution by the government, according to the group.