17 Montagnards Get Stiff Prison Terms

HANOI, Vietnam, NOV. 24, 2004 (Zenit.org).- A court in Vietnam’s restive Central Highlands sentenced 17 Montagnard tribesmen to up to 10 years in prison for undermining national security and unity during an Easter weekend protest.

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The Montagnards, most of whom are Christians, are subjected to persecution by the government. This year, on the eve of the Easter celebrations, a peaceful manifestation in Buon Ma Thuot, capital of the province of Dac Lak, was violently suppressed.

Area tribes were protesting against the government’s restrictions of their Christian faith and the confiscation of their ancestral lands. They also called for development of their region, among the poorest in Vietnam.

Official sources announced that last week, in three separate trials in Dac Nong province, the provincial People’s Court handed down prison terms of three to 10 years to 17 Montagnards.

AsiaNews reported that the accused were convicted of forcing ethnic minority people to flee to neighboring Cambodia, luring people to join protests causing public disorder, and confronting the government and the Communist Party police.

The agency said that international human rights groups claimed 10 protesters were killed in clashes with police, while Hanoi said that only two died after being pelted with rocks thrown by other protesters.

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