Background Briefing

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V. Religious Persecution

Human Rights Watch continues to receive new reports of officials forcing Montagnard villagers to renounce Christianity and cease all political or religious activities in public self-criticism sessions or by signing written pledges.  Throughout 2004, Human Rights Watch received reports about provincial authorities in Dak Lak, Kon Tum, Dak Nong and Gia Lai provinces convening mandatory public denunciation sessions in which villagers were forced to renounce Christianity.

Other than ten officially registered Christian churches in Dak Lak and Gia Lai (for as many as 220,000 Christians in the two provinces), the government bans all Montagnard gatherings for Christian worship.  Exceptions are made in some cases for services led by the few pastors who are officially recognized by the government or gatherings such as funerals that are monitored by security officials or undercover police.

A complicating factor in the Central Highlands is that many Montagnard Christians distrust the government-controlled Evangelical Church of Vietnam and seek to manage their own religious activities.  Increasing numbers appear to be joining Tin Lanh Dega, or Dega Protestantism, an unsanctioned form of Christianity that combines evangelical Protestantism with elements of ethnic pride and aspirations for self-rule.  The government’s desire to rein in the “restive Montagnards” has impacted all Montagnard Christians, whether they are Dega supporters or not, because of the government’s increasing suspicion of any Montagnard Christian.

Pressure on Church Leaders

In an interview with Human Rights Watch in October 2003, a church elder from Cu Jut district, Dak Nong said authorities have filmed members of his village church committee, including himself, turning over bibles to local officials.  “When it was shown on television the announcer said we were voluntarily giving up the bibles,” he said.  “In fact, we were forced.”

Later the church elder—now in a Cambodian refugee camp—was arrested and detained in an airless, dark cell for four days at the district jail.  He was interrogated several times.  “I told them directly that we joined the demonstrations not on behalf of [U.S.-based Montagnard activist] Kok Ksor or because he told us to do them, but because you, the authorities, mistreat us and prevent us from practicing our religion.  I told them that when the dikes flood, they burst.”

After being warned not to participate in any political activities or continue to gather people to worship he was released.  “They threatened that my future and my children’s future would not be bright–– even if they studied hard––if I continued my religious activities.”

After release from jail in March 2003, he was summoned to join a one-month traveling “information campaign,” along with seven other Montagnard church leaders from four districts surrounding Buon Ma Thuot.  They were transported from village to village and forced to stand in front of meetings assembled by the authorities.

We were not allowed to say anything.  I was used as an example of someone who formerly had practiced Christianity but was now renouncing it.  The officials said that the government had pardoned us because we recognized our guilt and had become good people.  I was not allowed to say what I wanted to say but what they forced me to say.

In another case, a sixty-year-old Ede man from Cu Jut district near Buon Ma Thuot was arrested without charges or an arrest warrant on August 31, 2002.  He said that many Montagnards were arrested at that time because local authorities suspected they were planning a demonstration.  Younger Montagnards in the same prison as him were beaten in detention, he said, but the guards left him alone.  After two months he was released.

One month later the authorities made a ceremony in our village. They forced us to say that we would stop holding church services on Sunday.  Two of them held me down and tried to force me to drink rice wine [to seal the pledge].  I shouted at them, ‘If you want to kill me just give me a cup of poison, don’t treat me this way.’  I was very angry.

Two days later he fled to the forest, where he hid in the bush on his own––covertly provided food and supplies by his family––for seventeen months before making his way to a refugee camp in Cambodia. 

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>January 2005