05/12/2006, 00.00
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Another Christian dies of ill treatment in Vietnamese prisons

He was a 62-year-old Montagnard. At least 350 Montagnards are imprisoned and ill treated today. The government uses threats and imprisonment to repress any request for more freedom and pluralism in politics and trade unionism.

Washington (AsiaNews/agencies) – Another Christian has died in prison in Vietnam as a result of ill treatment. The government is opening up to global trade but maintains a rigid policy of repression of political and religious rights and freedoms.

International Christian Concern, a human rights monitoring group, said Siu Liul, 62 years, died on 24 April of a lack of food and water and also because of torture suffered. The Montagnard from the village of Ploi Kueng, Habong commune in Cu Se district in the province of Gia Lai, had been in prison in Ha Nam city since 2004. He was buried there because his family did not have enough money to pay for transport back to their village. Siu Liul is far from the first Montagnard to die in Vietnam's brutal prisons that hold at least 350 Christians now.

Although Vietnam wants to enter the World Trade Organisation, it still persists with systematic violations of human rights and religious freedom, according to the rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch (HRW). It refuses to allow the United Nations Human Rights Commission to meet political prisoners. In April, shortly before the start of the tenth national Congress of the Communist Party, hundreds of people – Christian priests, Buddhist monks, professionals, former Communists, ex detainees, teachers and others – signed a document calling for respect for fundamental human rights, a multi-party political system, independent trade unions and freedom of worship and political association. Brad Adams, HRW Asia director, said: "In Vietnam, simply signing this document is enough to result in a police inquiry and often imprisonment."

Police in fact immediately apprehended and interrogated many signatories, including an author, Do Nam Hai, a Mennonite priest, Nguyen Hong Quang, and a lawyer, Nguyen Van Dai.

Whoever uses the internet to criticize the government or to invoke democracy is imprisoned under vague laws safeguarding "national security". Dissidents have been condemned to years in prison for crimes of espionage or for "violating national security".

"Vietnam cannot attain international legitimacy if it continues to prevent human rights, political pluralism and religious freedom." Today, the United States considers it to be a "country of particular concern" because of violations of freedom of worship. There is need, he added, for the government to respect freedoms if it wants to enjoy more international credibility.

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