The Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI), which represents Degar Montagnard Christians in the area, said attacks began January 18 when security police raided a home in Ploi Kon Klor village of Kon Tum Province where some 19 Catholics gathered for worship. "While they were praying, three security police intervened demanding they stop praying."
Most of the Degar Montagnard Catholics dispersed, but security forces detained home owner A Khat, MFI said. While in police custody, he was allegedly forced sign an agreement that he will no longer conduct prayer services with more than five people. “If he does so again he will be arrested and imprisoned,” MFI Adviser Scott Johnson told BosNewsLife.
The next day, Degar Montagnard Catholics, including children, were attacked and beaten by security police in Ploi Hamong Ktu village in Dak Ha District, according to MFI investigators. The February 19 attack reportedly happened during a prayer service. “Security police intervened and shouted for them to leave. Four of them, one adult man and three boys were detained and beaten by security forces whilst they were praying,” Johnson said in a statement.
The victims were identified as A Tuik, 12, a Beng, 12, and A Khoe, 13, who were all whipped several times with a bamboo stick, kicked in the stomach and slapped in the face by police for praying, Johnson explained.
A 43-year-old man, identified as A Then, was allegedly repeatedly kicked “and passed from one security officer to another like they were playing soccer kicking him over and over,” MFI said, citing witnesses in the Central Highlands. In addition he received electric shocks twice “until he lost consciousness,” the group added. The man was left bleeding on the ground, and eventually his family and relatives carried him back to his village.
"He remained unconscious for over one hour and his family thought that he would die. Fortunately he regained consciousness but currently he is unable to walk and still suffers from the beating,” MFI said. Vietnamese government officials have denied human rights abuses and have accused MFI of "fabricating" stories. Vietnamese authorities reportedly alleges that the "Degar Church" is a terrorist organization, seeking to overthrow the Vietnamese government.
MFI has denied the allegations saying Vietnamese authorities have imprisoned over 300 Degar Montagnard Christians, and murdering several of them, for engaging in religious or political activities and attempts to flee the country.
“The Hanoi regime still seeks control over people and has used the official sanctioned church of [Communist official] Siu Kim to further repress Degar Montagnard Christians,” Johnson said. “Siu Kim has been using Vietnamese security police to force Degar Montagnard Christians to follow his church.”
Those who refuse are allegedly imprisoned, tortured and even murdered in prison or die after release from internal injuries incurred during torture sessions. Local authorities have reportedly also forced to “worship” the late Communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh before starting a Christian sermon.
News of the tensions in Vietnam’s Central Highlands comes shortly after Vietnamese Catholics ended over a month of protests in the capital Hanoi aimed at pressing the Communist government for the return of church land seized 50 years ago.
After talks between church and government officials, the protesters removed on last week a cross and tents from a one hectare (2.5-acre) piece of mostly-vacant land about a block from St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Eyewitnesses said workers have begun repainting a fence surrounding the site, which once housed the Vatican embassy before the Communists ended French colonial rule in 1954.
Catholics had reportedly also gathered in two other places in the capital, demanding return of a presbytery and land that has been used for a textile factory they say also belonged to the church.
The vigils began on December 18 and attracted more than 1,000 people at times, despite Hanoi authorities telling church leaders the activities were illegal and should be stopped.
In published remarks after meeting with Hanoi’s People’s Committee Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet urged “brothers and sisters to prepare for Tet," referring to the Lunar New Year holiday. Dissidents told BosNewsLife that Hanoi police threatened to use force against protesters.
Some have been reportedly investigated for "destroying state property and causing disorder." Religion remains a sensitive issue in Communist-run Vietnam, where the government is under pressure to extend reforms in economic areas to the religion and politics. MFI said the constitution guarantees freedom of religion, something, it claims, has been overlooked by officials. (With BosNewsLife Asia Service and reporting from and sources in Vietnam).