"HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)-- Six Evangelical Christians of Vietnam’s Montagnard Degar minority were facing another tense day Wednesday, June 28, after a court reportedly jailed them on charges of inciting religious unrest and organizing illegal border crossings to neighboring Cambodia.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) quoted an official at the Dak Nong Province People's Court as saying that the men from the Central Highlands region were sentenced to between five and seven years in prison for "violating solidarity policies and organizing illegal migration." The Vietnam News Agency reportedly said that the evangelical Christians from the Montagnard Degar community “incited almost 300 people to protest," apparently against the government. They were arrested as they and 16 others tried to cross the border to Cambodia last October, ABC said. Vietnamese officials claimed the six had planned to either set up an independent state or "flee to Cambodia in groups with an accusation that the Vietnamese state violated human rights and repressed religions." Their names were not released.
In an angrily worded statement obtained by BosNewsLife, representatives of the Montagnard Degar people rejected Vietnam’s accusations. "Vietnam’s repeated allegations that Montagnard Degar people are seeking an independent state are baseless,” said Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI). "The indigenous Montagnard Degar Peoples have suffered decades of persecution by the government of Vietnam, namely; confiscation of their ancestral lands, Christian religious repression, torture, killings and imprisonment..." In addition, "to date over 350 Montagnard Degar prisoners remain in Vietnamese prisons for charges involving merely standing up for human rights, for spreading Christianity or for fleeing to Cambodia. As part of the Vietnamese Government’s policy Vietnamese soldiers continue with a campaign of brutal repression and religious persecution of Montagnards," claimed MFI, an advocacy groups with close contacts in the Central Highlands. In June 2006, the US State Department continued to maintain Vietnam on its "watch list" of countries it says are the “worst violators” of religious freedom. News the latest detentions came shortly after Reports of the arrest came shortly after earlier this month Secular and Christian investigators condemned the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for not doing enough to ensure the safety of predominantly Christian Degar Montagnards returning from Cambodia to Vietnam where they are "detained, interrogated and even tortured."