XVI. CASE STUDY: THE GOAT'S BLOOD OATH CEREMONIES IN EA H'LEO
We were afraid [the wine] had poison in it and that they wanted to kill off all of the demonstrators. We remembered about the Bible saying not to drink blood, and we were afraid that we had violated God.
- Jarai man from Ea H'leo, October 30, 2001
As in many other parts of the Central Highland, immediately after the February 2001 unrest police carried out a number of arrests in Ea H'leo district, a primarily ethnic Jarai area in Dak Lak near the Gia Lai border. In March and April 2001, police stepped up the pressure, regularly summoning dozens of villagers to police stations for weekly "working sessions" in which they were intensively interrogated and warned against future religious or political organizing. When it seemed that the government's message was not getting through, the authorities instituted even harsher measures to bear down on political organizing and religious freedom: the "goat's blood ceremonies," which were conducted in dozens of villages in Dak Lak beginning in May.
The origins of the ceremonies, which were perhaps provincial officials' crude approximation of "animist" rituals followed by non-Christian highlanders, are unknown.487
The goat's blood ceremonies were conducted in dozens of villages in Ea H'leo district of Dak Lak, starting in May 2001. The ceremony was also reported to have taken place in villages in Gia Lai during the latter half of 2001, but to a lesser extent. Ea H'leo and neighboring Ea Sup districts of Dak Lak were perhaps targeted because of the high level of political activism there, combined with the districts' relative remoteness from the provincial towns.
During the ceremonies, people who had participated in the February 2001 demonstrations were forced to stand up in front of their entire village and provincial authorities to admit their wrongdoing, pledge to cease any contacts with outside groups, and renounce their religion. Formal procedures were staged in dozens of villages, all following a similar script. Any villager known to have participated in the February demonstrations would be issued an order ("Giay Trieu Tap") to attend a "working session" with the local People's Committee on a certain date. The entire village would assemble on the appointed day, together with high-ranking government officials and military and police commanders from the province, district, commune and village. A blue banner would be erected, reading in some areas: "Judgment Ceremony of the People who Opposed the Government and Joined the Demonstrations," and in other areas, "The Ceremony to Repent from Following Dega Christianity."488
Soldiers would surround the village so that no one could elude the ceremony. Known demonstrators would be required to stand in front of the banner to read a document prepared by the authorities, in which the person confessed his wrongdoings, urged others not to follow his mistakes, agreed to follow the laws of the state or face prosecution, and renounced Christianity. A slightly different version of the document, an official pledge (Ban Cam Ket) signed by the district chief (See Appendix G, p. 190), was given to each participant afterwards. Then, to seal the pledge, the individual repentant would be forced to drink rice wine mixed with goat's blood while other villagers were enlisted to beat ceremonial brass gongs.
While a number of highlanders interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they had signed various pledges under duress, they generally said what they wrote or said did not reflect their true feelings. Much more disturbing-and humiliating-was the forced drinking of goat's blood. Some said that as Christians, they believed it was a sin to receive or give away blood that was not the blood of Jesus.489
One man, who was able to escape before being forced to participate in the ceremony, commented: "The police told me that drinking blood with wine would cleanse my sins and wrongdoings. If we didn't drink, they would charge that we still opposed the government and that we were not their people."
Another young man who succumbed to the pressure looked dazed and afraid as he recounted in a monotone what had happened: "They asked us to drink goat's blood, but we never saw any goat. We wondered where the blood was from. If we didn't drink it, they would beat us. We didn't know if it was from a chicken or a dog or what. I am afraid I will have health problems in the future."490
Others were clearly traumatized by the pressure. One man said that police visited him at home several times after his release from prison in May. They threatened to throw him back into prison if he didn't agree to the goat's blood ceremony. "I wanted to kill myself, slit my own throat because of the pressure," he said. "Sometimes when the police would come, I'd say kill me, I don't care. Finally I was able to escape to Cambodia."491
From May until mid-August, when many participants fled to Cambodia, goat's blood ceremonies were conducted in at least two dozen villages in Ea H'leo district alone.492 The ceremonies were reported to have taken place in Ea Sup district as well as in several districts in Gia Lai.493
487 Ethnic Jarai from the Central Highlands told Human Rights Watch that they had never heard of such ceremonies being conducted in the past, although some reported the practice of "biting a knife" to consecrate a pledge. It should be noted that non-Christian Jarai living just across the border in Cambodia, who follow a holistic spiritual system that could be called animist, are not known to drink goat's blood mixed with wine. Human Rights Watch interviews with Jarai from Vietnam and from Cambodia, October 2001.
488 Human Rights Watch interviews with Ea H'leo residents, March 12, 2001. See also: "Report on the Protestants' Situation in Dak Lak Province," September 3, 2001, written by a Protestant church leader in the Central Highlands who asked to remain anonymous.
489 Human Rights Watch interviews with Ea H'leo residents, October 30, 2001.
490 Human Rights Watch interview with Ea H'leo resident, October 30, 2001.
491 Human Rights Watch interview with Ede man from a village in Dak Lak, October 11, 2001.
492 Villages where the ceremonies were conducted in Ea H'leo included: Buon Dang, Buon Treng, Buon Sam A, Buon Sam B, Buon Tung, Buon Areng, Buon Le, Buon Blec, Buon Dung, Buon Breng, Buon Druh, Buon Tri A, Buon Tri B, Buon Sec, Buon Kha, Buon Cuah, Buon Drai, Buon Hyao, Buon Bir, Buon Hvuai, Buon Hving, Buon Co, and Buon Ta Li.
493 "Report on the Protestants' Situation in Dak Lak Province," September 3, 2001, written by a Protestant church leader in the Central Highlands who asked to remain anonymous.