In a statement seen Monday, April 7, the Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI), which represents Christians in the Central Highlands, said Rahlan Hen from Ploi Beng village in Giala Province, died last month while serving a six year jail term, “for refusing to join the church of [local Communist official] Siu Kim.
"Many Degar Montagnard Christians disagree with the practices of this church and feel that Siu Kim is actually teaching people to worship the government and not God," MFI explained. “This is why Rahlan Hen refused to join. Because of this, the government decided to arrest him» on June 14, 2006.
"The Vietnamese government sent security police along with riot police to his house and arrested him. They handcuffed him and began to beat and kick him severely," said MFI. "They dragged him from his house, stomping on him with their heavy military boots until he lost consciousness…Then they threw his body in their jeep and took him to the district of Ia Grai prison," where torture apparently continued.
"At this prison facility, the security police repeatedly beat and tortured him; they kicked, punched, stomped on and shocked him with electric rods." He was reportedly transferred to several other prison facilities, including in the province of Phu Yen.
The Vietnamese government supports a policy “transfer certain prisoners frequently, beating and torturing them with each move, keeping them away from their families and causing them fatal injuries…” MFI claimed.
The Vietnamese government has denied wrongdoing and accuses MFI of spreading propaganda. MFI has said however that several other Degar-Montagnard Christian prisoners are also known to have died in recent years.
"The government will deny murdering a Degar-Montagnard victim, and will claim that the person simply died in prison. In Rahlan Hen’s case, each time they moved him, they tortured him mercilessly, and when he did not die, they tried to feed him poisoned food…He was aware of this trick and so he refused to eat."
Before he died, his wife visited him at the Phu Yen Province prison, and saw that "one of his legs was paralyzed and that he could barely walk," MFI told BosNewsLife." She was overcome with sorrow, but could do nothing to help him. All she could offer him was her tears."
On March 17 she was summoned to visit her husband in prison, "but when she arrived, the security police informed her that he was already dead," MFI said. "They took his wife to the burial site and opened the coffin so that she could see her husband’s face for the last time." She apparently begged security officials to allow her to take her husband’s corpse back home "so that his relatives could also see his face for the last time," an important part of the Degar Montagnard culture.
Officials allegedly refused saying: “He has been sentenced to 6 years in prison so you can come back and pick up his bones in three more years after he had finished his prison term.”
Elsewhere in the Central Highlands, Degar-Montagnard Christians have also been targeted by security forces in recent months, including in Ploi Kuk Tu, in Gialai Province, where 44-year-old Dinh Plok lost his farmland and belongings for “refusing to sign a document renouncing his Christian faith,” MFI said.
"Dinh Plok, a Catholic, had his home, his farmlands and all his belongings, including his motorcycle, a Honda Dream, confiscated by the Vietnamese government…" in February.
He apparently converted to Catholicism last year, and shortly after, his whole family as well as many of his wife’s relatives, followed his lead and also converted to Catholicism.
"They became the most devoted Christians in the village of Ploi Kuk Tu, and so the Vietnamese government became nervous that these people would cause Catholicism to spread," MFI stressed. "Vietnam desires for villagers to worship [Communist leader] Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese Communist Party as their god. This is why they only allow Degar Montagnards to join certain churches, which they control and oversee."
In a related incident, two other Degar Montagnard Catholics were beaten and imprisoned in February because they refused to sign a document renouncing their faith, MFI explained.
The detainees were identified as two Christian men, A Plit, 35, and 25-year old A Um. They were allegedly beaten, with A Plit apparently collapsing after being struck on his faith and kicked with heavy military boots.
"The security police handcuffed both Catholic men and took them to the Hoa Binh prison facility, where they continue to be incarcerated. The families of A Plit and A Um are all terribly worried about them because they know what the Vietnamese security police usually do to Degar Montagnard prisoners.
MFI criticized American Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill for recently telling the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs "religious freedom in Vietnam has expanded significantly."
Hill has reportedly defended Washington’s view that "Vietnam no longer qualifies as a serious violator of religious freedom." Human rights groups have said that although the Communist Party has allowed economic reforms, it remains concerned about unrestricted freedom of speech or the spread of Christianity, which is seen as undermining its ideology.