Wednesday, January 12, 2005

New evidence of Montagnard mistreatment reported

Human Rights Watch appealed to Cambodia not to turn away Montagnard Christians fleeing from the central highlands of Vietnam, citing "alarming new reports of mass arrests, torture and increasing persecution" for their religious beliefs, in a 25-page report released Monday. It said new testimony "establishes the widespread and continued use of torture against activists, religious leaders and incividuals who have been voluntarily returned from Cambodia." Hundreds of Montagnard Christians in the highlands were rounded up in the weeks leading up to Christmas; in "Gia Lai province alone -- one of five provinces in the Central Highlands -- police arrested 129 people between December 12 and 24." The current whereabouts of most of the detainees are unknown.

At a press conference the same day, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Dung denied the allegations of the HRW report, and claimed Christmas was celebrated peacefully in the highlands. The Army newspaper Quan Doi Nhan Dan denounced HRW's "perilous political scheme disguised under the pretext of 'protecting human rights'," and claimed that "no citizens have been arrested for religious reasons and that only those who break the law and foment social unrest to destroy the peaceful life and normal religious practices of local people, and those who attempt to threaten Viet Nam's national security and territorial integrity will be punished." (Human Rights Watch, press release and report, Jan. 10; Vietnam News Agency, Jan. 10, 12).


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