VIETNAM New arrests among Montagnard Christians despite Hanoi’s progress with the Vatican

VIETNAM New arrests among Montagnard Christians despite Hanoi’s progress with the Vatican

The fate of 11 Christians, including six Protestants (Degar) and five Catholics from the Ha Mon community, is shrouded in mystery. They had already been sentenced in the past, at the end of their sentence, “without news” and “they seem to have disappeared”. The reason for the sentence was “religious activity or affiliation”. Concerns about these repressions persist despite the openness towards the local Church and the Holy See.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Cases of ethno-confessional persecution against the Montagnard religious minority, persecuted by Hanoi since the war in the 1970s, are returning to Vietnam. According to a report by an international activist group, there has been great concern for some time about the fate of 11 Christians imprisoned because of their faith, of whom “no news has been heard” and who seem to have “disappeared into thin air”.

According to the Washington-based International Christian Concern (ICC), the group, comprising six Protestants and five Catholics, was sentenced between 2011 and 2016 to a total of 90 years and eight months in prison. They include Protestants Degar Ro Mah Pla, Siu Hlom, Rmah Bloanh and Rmah Khil, accused of “undermining the policy of national unity,” and Catholics Runh, A Kuin, A Tik, Run and Dinh Kuh, from the Ha Mon community, both of whom were not approved by the government.

“Eleven Vietnamese Montagnard Christians who had been imprisoned for their religious activities or affiliation in the Southeast Asian nation have disappeared, raising concerns about the treatment of followers of Christ imprisoned in Vietnam,” the ICC briefing said.

According to the Campaign to Abolish Torture in Vietnam, nearly 90 Montagnards are currently imprisoned or released under conditions that severely restrict their civil rights. “The missing Christian prisoners reflect a broader problem in Vietnam’s legal framework for minorities in the country,” the ICC statement concluded. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, contacted by Free Asia Radio (Rfa), did not wish to comment on the news, which has raised more than one concern among international activist movements about their fate.

In January, 100 worshipers from Dak Lak province, a region populated by some 30 minority tribes, were tried for an attack on two people’s commune headquarters that left nine people dead. At least 10 of them were sentenced to life in prison on terrorism charges. The rest received prison terms ranging from three and a half to 20 years, most on terrorism-related charges.

For years, the “hill tribes” were persecuted by the government on religious grounds, a legacy of the Vietnam War era, when the Montagnards allied with the United States in an attempt to establish an autonomous nation. Over time, the authorities in Hanoi continued to repress them, accusing them of “secession” and expropriating their land under that pretext.

Many have sought refuge in Cambodia, but the Phnom Penh government has repeatedly sent them back, in violation of UN rules on political refugees. Their membership in the Christian community also constitutes an additional element of suspicion, which combines ethno-political attacks with persecution of a sectarian nature.

Persecutions and arrests that continue to this day, in a historical phase where Hanoi has embarked on the path of rapprochement with the Church, strengthening its relations with the Holy See and recently welcoming Monsignor Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States. One step closer to a (near) future restoration of full diplomatic relations and with the hope, not even too distant, of welcoming Pope Francis for an apostolic journey unthinkable until recently.

About 7% of the Asian country’s 97 million inhabitants are Catholic. Speaking about the Vietnamese reality during the mass celebrated in the capital’s Saint Joseph Cathedral, the Vatican’s “foreign minister” spoke of “living stones” whose testimony “touches me deeply”. There is great anticipation and impatience surrounding the pontiff’s possible visit, which will follow the significant progress made In last years in relationships and for which Local authorities have already issued an invitation.