By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife with reporting from Vietnam
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife) -- Vietnamese security forces have tortured and killed at least two Christian Degar Montagnards in Vietnam's Central Highlands in recent months and allegedly murdered relatives of religious prisoners, representatives said Monday, May 28.
The US-based advocacy group Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI), which has contacts in the region, told BosNewsLife that one of the Christian Degar Montagnard prisoners, 43-year-old Rahlan Lua from the village of Bon Toat in Gialai province, died last month, April 10. He died "from the effects of torture and maltreatment he received in prison," MFI stressed.
A fellow believer, 53-year-old Y-Kuo Nie, from Buon Cu Mil village in the province of Daklak died the previous month, March 18, "after he was released from prison," and apparently tortured, the group added.
Lua had been sentenced to several prisons since his first arrest in December 2001, on charges related to what MFI described as "his involvement in a peaceful demonstration calling for religious freedom and land rights," earlier that year.
He was released in July 2005 but "re-arrested, tortured again and sent to the prison facility in the province of Tuy Hoa" several months later in November, MFI said.
Lua's health reportedly started to deteriorate before he was released this year in February, but he eventually died April 10, 2007. "His village reports that the Vietnamese security police arrested and tortured him the second time to make sure that he would certainly die when he gets home," MFI claimed. He was buried on April 12, but it apparently took time before information of his death could reach the international community.
Y-Kuo Nie had a similar experience since February 2001, when he was first "arrested, tortured and sent to the prison facility in Ha Nam province" for supporting a peaceful demonstration demanding religious freedom and land rights that year, according to MFI investigators.
"Due to the severity and repeated torture he endured the Vietnamese security police knew hewas going to die, so, the police called his wife to go pick up her [dead] husband from Ha Nam prison," MFI claimed. However, Y-Kuoâ€™s wife, Hâ€™Long Buonya, "was so poor and could not afford to travel to Han Nam even though she so wanted to," MFI said. Vietnamese security police reportedly brought her husband home to his village on March 17, 2007, for burial.
Their deaths came amid reports that some relatives of Christian prisoners have been killed. In one of the latest incidents in March, two female relatives of Degar Montagnard Christian and political prisoners and their driver were killed in March in a "suspicious" car accident after returning from "the notorious Vietnamese prison in the province of Ha Nam" to visit their loved ones, MFI claimed.
The killed women, Hâ€™Powel Eban, 35, and Hâ€™Wot Buonkrong, 45, were apparently part of a group of 12 relatives who were attempting to visit the prisoners. H'Powel Eban was killed after she visited her jailed husband Y-Yuan Buonya and now leaves behind him and four young children, MFI said. It was not immediately clear what would happen with the children who are 14, 10, 6 and 4 year old.
Hâ€™Wot Buonkrong died after visiting her jailed brother Y-Hoang Buonkrong in the same prison facility, MFI explained. The driver's name was not immediately known.
They were killed on their way back home when a large army truck coming from the opposite direction swerved in their direction towards their van, MFI quoted eyewitnesses as saying.
"The van driver tried to avoid the collision but was unable to escape. The truck crashed into them, [forcing] their van off the road, killing the driver and the two women who were sitting next to the driver," MFI said. Nearly all other passengers were reportedly seriously injured.
Vietnamese officials have not reacted to the latest claims, however in previous statements the government has strongly denied human rights abuses. There are an estimated 350, predominantly Christian, Degar Montagnards, an ethnic group, in prisons across in Communist-run Vietnam and many other jailed dissidents and Christian believers, human rights groups claim.
MFI and other organizations have linked the crackdown to concern among Communist authorities about the spread of Christianity outside the government controlled churches and growing demands that economic reforms accompany democratic changes. There has also been frustration about the support given by Degar Montagnard forces to American troops during the Vietnam War.
Human rights groups have alleged that the Vietnamese government tries to suppress information about the alleged human rights abuses. This month Vietnam reportedly pressured the United Nations to ban the screening of two films made by an independent film maker during UN events about indigenous people in New York.
The Khmer Krom Federation was to screen last week "Eliminated Without Bleeding," a documentary about Khmer Krom people in Vietnam and Khmer Krom refugees in Cambodia and Thailand explaining their human rights situation. The film continued on Internet website .
Another group, The Hmong Lao Human Rights Council, and Earth Peoples, were to show "Hunted Like Animals," at a UN site event. The document, now shown via website , shows traumatized Hmong Lao refugees in Thailand, explaining what happened to them while living in hiding and allegedly running from constant military attacks by Vietnamese and Laotian forces.
Rebecca Sommer, the filmmaker of both films, said she had asked Vietnam's UN representative to view the films. "We believe in dialogue" so he can "evaluate the situation from the perspective of the affected Hmong Lao people, who say that military officials are actually involved in military aggressions..." (With BosNewsLife News Center and reports from New York and Vietnam's Central Highland).
Copyright 2007 BosNewsLife. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without our prior written consent.