By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife with reporting from Vietnam
HO CHI MINH CITY/HANOI (BosNewsLife) -- A tense calm returned to the streets of Ho Chi Minh City Thursday, July 19, after dozens of people were injured and hundreds detained when police broke up a massive protest of peasants demanding the return of their lands, dissidents said.
Over 1,500 male and female police officers equipped with electric prods, police vehicles and "animal control trucks" dispersed "the sit-in protest of over 1,700 peasants from 19 different provinces" who had gathered in front of the Vietnamese National, Assembly offices for almost a month, Sy Hoang, president of the International Movement for Democracy and Human Rights in Vietnam (IMDHR) told BosNewsLife.
"Four peasants were knocked down unconscious by police electric prods, 24 peasants were badly injured," including several protest leaders, the official said. "One young man from Lam Dong province received a serious head injury. Eight police ambulance vans full of injured protesters were seen leaving the protest site."
In addition police reportedly detained over 200 protesters in Binh Thuan, Binh Phuoc and Soc Trang provinces who had been protesting against nationalization of lands at Mai Xuan Thuong Park in Hanoi. "Police have transported them away to unknown places in two trains," Sy Hoang added.
There was no immediate word from Vietnamese officials where and how long the demonstrators will be held. The Vietnamese government has accused advocacy groups and dissidents, including Christian leaders, for allegedly spreading "propaganda" and "undermining" stability in the country.
Among those detained Wednesday, July 18, are five key female activists including Lu Thi Thu Duyen, 34, Vu Thanh Phuong, in her 40s, Pham Thi Hien, in her 30s, and Cao Que Hoa and Le Thi Nguyet, who are both in their 50s, IMDHR said.
Police officials reportedly announced that at least three of them are also held for their involvement in Bloc 8406, a group promoting political and religious rights. The group was founded last year by Nguyen Thanh Phong and Nguyen Binh Thanh under the "spiritual guidance" of priest Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly. All these men have been imprisoned.
The report came amid growing concern Thursday, July 19, over a reported police crackdown on Christian Degar Montagnards in the Central Highlands, many of whom also claim they lost land under the Communist government.
In the latest incidents two young children in Dak Nong province were still without their Christian parents Thursday, July 19, after their young mother Hâ€™Thui Ya, 29, from Buon U village, was sentenced to three years and seven months imprisonment for fleeing to neighboring Cambodia, rights activists said.
The June 1 sentencing came after her husband Y-Thot Butrang, 45, was sentenced in 2002 to 11 years in imprisonment for fleeing to Cambodia, added the Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI) in a statement to BosNewsLife.
Another Christian Degar Montagnard woman was also sentenced the same day for fleeing to Cambodia, MFI said. 32-year-old Nai HaNgat from Kli Kia village in Gia Lai received six years imprisonment after a brief trial in which "numerous security police testified against" her, the group said.
Human rights groups have linked the crackdown on Degar Montagnards to concerns within the Communist party over the spread of Christianity in the Central Highlands. In addition officials are upset for Degar Montagnards' past support for American forces during the Vietnam War. Hundreds of Degar Montagnards are held in prisons across Vietnam. The government has denied human rights abuses saying reports to the contrary are false.
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