Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A Vietnamese court has sentenced eight members of the Hmong minority for up to two-and-a-half years each in connection with ethnic violence last May, which was forcibly suppressed by police.
According to state media, the men were convicted of disturbing the social order and promoting separatism, adding that the sentence showed the "humanitarian" and "benevolent" side of Vietnamese justice since it could have been harsher.
Officials were quoted as saying that the Hmong were lured by unidentified "individuals with ill intentions" who spread rumours that a "king" would arrive and lead them to a promised land.
In May 2011, Vietnamese authorities unleashed a wave of repression against Christian Hmong in the country's north-west that left at least 49 people dead. Hundreds were arrested or disappeared.
The incident began on 30 April, at Muong Nhe in Dien Bien province, when about 8,500 Hmong gathered to pray and ask for reforms and religious freedom.
Members of the People's Army and security forces violently broke up the gathering. Many were detained and taken to undisclosed locations in Vietnam and Laos.
After ten months, a court in Dien Bien sentenced yesterday two of those arrested to two-and-a-half year jail terms for "disturbing security". The other six were given two-year sentences. Afterwards they will spend two years under house arrest following their release.
Clashes in May between Vietnamese security forces and ethnic Hmong was the clearest example in the country's recent past of violence against its ethnic minorities.
Hmong have often been the victim of discrimination and persecution by the Communist government because some of its members fought on the side of the United States during the Vietnam War.
Between 2001 and 2004, Montagnards in Vietnam's central plateaus suffered a similar fate, with thousands forced to flee into neighbouring Cambodia.