Vetnam: Eight montagnards jailed for ‘undermining national unity’


Radio Free Asia

On 29 May 2013, a court in Vietnam’s Central Highlands sentenced eight ethnic minority Montagnards affiliated with an unregistered Catholic church to between three and 11 years in prison for “undermining the [national] unity”.
 
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.
 
Vietnamese state media identified the eight convicted as Runh, Byuk, Jonh, Dinh Hron, and Dinh Lu from Gia Lai province and A Hyum, A Tach, and Y Gyin from Kon Tum province.

 

Vietnam News Agency reported that according to the indictment, in 2002 Y Gyin had “spread rumors” that the Virgin Mary had appeared in Ha Mon, where authorities were planning to build a hydroelectricity plant. The others joined him in “enticing” thousands of people to protest against the plant in 2008, and the same year, A Hyum contacted an alleged exiled armed separatist organization – the Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Peoples, or FULRO – to ask for help, it said. Vietnam has asserted that rights groups working on Central Highlands issues are part of an ongoing separatist movement linked to FULRO, but the groups reject the claims, saying they are working nonviolently for human rights. According to previous Human Rights Watch reports, Runh, Jonh, and Byuk were taken into custody in May 2012 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.