X. GOVERNMENT RESPONSE: THE INITIAL REACTION
Following the protests, Vietnamese authorities responded with a mixture of repression and new policy initiatives, some aimed at addressing highlander grievances. Their initial reaction was to dispatch thousands of police and army units to disperse the protesters. Police conducted village-to-village sweeps and arrested dozens of highlanders, in a number of cases using torture to elicit confessions and public statements of remorse or renunciation of Christianity by protest organizers and church leaders. Those singled out included former FULRO and church leaders, as well as demonstrators. Authorities also stepped up surveillance and propaganda activities throughout the Central Highlands. They banned religious gatherings in many places and tightened existing controls on association, assembly, and movement. They also virtually barred outside access to the region, allowing only a few strictly controlled government tours.
Repression, however, continued throughout 2001, with further arrests and the destruction and closure of minority churches. In June 2001, the party issued an internal analysis of the causes of the February unrest, concluding that political enemies were using ethnicity and religion to weaken national unity. Beginning in September 2001 and continuing through early 2002, at least thirty-four highlanders were brought to trial for their role in the protests. As the first anniversary of the protests approached in February 2002, the presence of security forces in the region was increased with the deployment of additional 2,300 soldiers to Gia Lai, Dak Lak, and Kontum.278
The Immediate Response: Arrests and Police Sweeps
Late on the night of February 3-4, three jeeps carrying provincial policemen entered a hamlet on the outskirts of Buon Ma Thuot. "They surrounded my house," said one man who was arrested that night. "My wife was crying. I was wearing only shorts, no shirt. They beat me and gave me shocks with an electric baton. They tied me up and threw me in the jeep. They accused me of organizing the demonstrations, and sent me to the prison in Buon Ma Thuot." He was released three months later.282
In Dak Lak, sixty police and soldiers stormed Buon Ea Sup village at midnight on February 6, firing into the air and throwing tear gas canisters as they entered. They surrounded the homes of people suspected of leading others to the demonstrations, including Y Nuen Buon Ya (Ama El) and Y Nong (Ama Cong). The police dragged the two men out of their homes in their underwear and arrested them.286 Several hundred young ethnic Vietnamese teenagers holding burning torches in their hands accompanied the police and soldiers.
By February 9, a military official at the Gia Lai provincial army base announced that additional troops had been mobilized and that Pleiku was prepared for any necessary military action. On February 10, the party newspaper Nhan Dan (The People) reported that 1,300 military reinforcements had been sent to the Central Highlands since late January, where authorities were employing "proper security measures" in order to "encourage local people to return to their hamlets."291
By February 8, the Foreign Ministry announced that twenty people had been arrested in Gia Lai alone for "provocative acts" and damaging state property during the demonstrations. "They were people who caused social instability and damage, destroyed schools and resisted the authorities," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh told reporters.293 A provincial official in Gia Lai said that the suspects were former FULRO members who were spreading Protestantism and advocating autonomy.294
At least eight people were arrested immediately after the February 14 demonstrations in Kontum provincial town. Some were released from the provincial prison in August 2001 and placed under house arrest.295
The arrests continued during the second half of February in Ea H'leo, Krong Buk, Krong Nang, and Ea Sup districts of Dak Lak. On February 14, forty police and soldiers entered a village in Ea H'leo in Dak Lak to carry out arrests. "At my house they beat me on my head and on my back and arms with a stick," said a man who was arrested. "I passed out, and they threw me in a vehicle. When I came to I was in the prison in Buon Ma Thuot. They asked if I wanted to follow Kok Ksor or the government of Vietnam. I said Kok Ksor, and they hit me again." He was released on May 19, 2001.296
Surveillance and Interrogations
Throughout the Central Highlands, highlanders were subjected to surveillance and interrogation after the February protests. A villager from Chu Se district, Gia Lai described the situation there:
Police and local authorities went village by village to search for suspected organizers and conduct community meetings to pressure people to sign loyalty oaths and persuade them not to support independence. A resident of Ea H'leo described a session that took place in early February:
A Jarai man described the atmosphere in Dak Doa district, Dak Lak:
Another man from Ia Grai district in Gia Lai said:
Former members of FULRO came in for particular scrutiny. They were subject to police interrogation and monitoring regardless of whether they had participated in the protests.301 An eighty-nine-year old Mnong man from Dak Lak who had left the FULRO movement in 1992 described the situation:
A Montagnard from Dak Lak who had been a FULRO member until his arrest and imprisonment in 1985 said that government officials were searching for former FULRO both before and after the demonstrations:
On February 8, police summoned forty villagers in Buon Ea Sup in Dak Lak who were suspected of supporting MFI to the commune police headquarters for interrogation, but released them that evening. The police sessions in Buon Ea Sup continued every day, including Sundays, for weeks. Participants in the demonstrations were pressured to sign written statements promising to end all contact with MFI and other "foreign organizations" and to abandon Christianity.
"They wanted us to say that Vietnamese and ethnic minorities were one people, not separate," said a villager from Buon Ea Sup. "They also wanted us to do a special ceremony to seal the pledge, in which we were to drink wine mixed with goat's blood."304
Targeting of Christians
Similar pressure was brought to bear on minority Christians in Kontum, Lam Dong and Gia Lai after the demonstrations. In Lam Dong, Christians were not permitted to gather at the church in Phi Lieng commune, Lam Ha district, and authorities confiscated all the furniture in the chapel.309 In Ayun Pa district, Gia Lai, local authorities closed down a church in Ea To commune, which had been open for approximately five years, and banned house church meetings.310 A Bible teacher in Chu Se district, Gia Lai, described the situation:
Even highlanders who did not attend the February demonstrations described being regarded as subversives by local authorities because Christianity-particularly "Dega Protestantism"-was regarded as the underlying source of the February unrest. Suppression of minority Christians was to continue and intensify during the year following the protests.
278 Reuters, "Vietnam to send extra police to Central Highlands," January 29, 2002. Reuters, "Hanoi troops sent to teach highlanders about plots," February 25, 2002.
279 Reuters, "Vietnam tense after protests," February 8, 2001. Deutsche Presse-Agentur, "War-era FULRO thought to be fueling Vietnam unrest," February 9, 2001.
280 Human Rights Watch interview with Ede man from Dak Lak, July 13, 2001.
283 Human Rights Watch interview with Ede man from Buon Ma Thuot, July 13, 2001.
284 Bom Jena was later sentenced to twelve years of imprisonment and Ksor Kroih was sentenced to eleven during a trial conducted on September 26, 2001 in Pleiku.
285 Human Rights Watch interview, Jarai man from Gia Lai, March 2001.
286 Y Nuen Buon Ya, whom Vietnamese state media later alleged had persuaded thousands of highlanders to demonstrate, was sentenced to eleven years in prison on September 26, 2001 on charges of "undermining public security." Y Nong was reportedly sentenced to four years in prison after a trial in October or November 2001.
287 Eyewitnesses from Buon Ea Sup said in October 2001 said that it appeared that the police had mobilized the Vietnamese youth to raid the village because they arrived at the same time as the police and military, who made no efforts to control them.
288 Human Rights Watch interview with Jarai man from Ea H'leo, March 2000. Siu Un was sentenced to eleven years imprisonment on charges of undermining security at a trial on September 26, 2001.
289 Human Rights Watch interview with Jarai man from Ea H'leo, March 2000.
290 Reuters, "After unrest, Vietnam paper publishes riot code," March 28, 2001.
291 Agence France-Presse, "Vietnam signals determination to crack down on ethnic unrest," February 10, 2001.
292 Quan Doi Nhan Dan (People's Army Daily), cited by Tini Tran, "Ethnic Minority Protest in Vietnam," Associated Press, February 7, 2001. Steve Kirby, "Vietnam warns religious leaders over ethnic unrest," Agence France Presse, February 7, 2001.
293 Reuters, "Vietnam says 20 arrested over ethnic unrest," February 8, 2001. David Brunnstrom, "Officials differ over religion in Vietnam unrest," Reuters, March 16, 2001.
294 Tini Tran, "Vietnam Era Group Accused," Associated Press, February 10, 2001.
295 Human Rights Watch interviews with Jarai and Bahnar men from Kontum, October 30, 2001.
296 Human Rights Watch interview with Jarai man from Ea H'leo, Dak Lak, October 11, 2001.
297 Human Rights Watch interview with a Jarai man from Chu Se district, Gia Lai, June 27, 2001.
298 Human Rights Watch interview with Jarai man from Ea H'leo, Dak Lak, March 2001.
299 Human Rights Watch interview with Jarai man from Gia Lai, March 2001.
300 Human Rights Watch interview with Jarai man from Ia Grai district, Gia Lai, June 26, 2001.
301 A June 2001 internal VCP document alleged that many evangelical pastors and church workers are former FULRO members who have been manipulated by the United States to oppose the Vietnamese government. Confidential VCP Advisory, "Mobilization to Strengthen the Masses and the Traditional Life, the Revolution, and the Solidarity among all Ethnic Peoples and Oppose the Forces who are Active in Order to Destroy the Progressive Forces and the Protection of our Fatherland, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam," June 2001. Vietnamese language document and English translation on file at Human Rights Watch.
302 Human Rights Watch interview with Mnong man from Dak Lak, June 23, 2001.
303 Human Rights Watch with Montagnard from Dak Lak, October 30, 2001.
304 Human Rights Watch interviews with residents of Buon Ea Sup, October 20, 2001.
305 Human Rights Watch interviews with Jarai man from Buon Ea Sup, Dak Lak, October 20, 2001.
306 Vietnam Observer, "April 2001 Update on Western Highlands Situation-Vietnam."
307 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Vietnam: International Religious Freedom Report, October 2001.
308 Human Rights Watch interviews with residents of Buon Ea Sup, Dak Lak, October 20, 2001.
309 "Central Highlands Christian Workers' Situation Reports, December 2001 through February 2002," written by Protestant church leaders who asked to remain anonymous. English translation of Vietnamese language document on file at Human Rights Watch.
310 Religious gatherings were still banned in that village as of February 2002. Human Rights Watch interviews, Jarai families from Ayun Pa district, Gia Lai, February 20, 2002.
311 Human Rights Watch interview with a Jarai man from Chu Se district, Gia Lai, June 28, 2001.