07/03/2006, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Montagnards still on trial in Vietnam

The accused, who were sentenced to three to seven years in prison, were charged with anti-national propaganda and organising illegal emigration as well as held responsible for Christian demonstrations in 2002-2005.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – The trials of Montagnards accused of engaging in demonstrations between 2002 and 2005 continue. Vietnamese news agency Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported that six ethnic Edê and M'Nông people received sentences ranging from three to seen years for undermining national unity and organising underground emigration.

The trial, which was held on June 21, followed a statement by Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung who dismissed as sheer fabrication a report by US-based Human Rights Watch according to which Vietnamese authorities had retaliated against Montagnards repatriated from Cambodia where they had sought refuge.

According to VNA's information, the events in question involving the six culprits took place between 2002 and 2005.

A first large scale demonstrations by Montagnards took place in 2001; a second one occurred in 2004.

The accused are said to have engaged in anti-national propaganda and created small "reactionary" groups within the Dega (or Degar in the VNA report) movement.

Dega is a term that replaced FULRO (Front uni de libération des races opprimées: United Liberation Front of Oppressed Races) to describe Vietnam's national minorities and is often used by the authorities when they speak about 'Dega Protestantism'.

The report of the trial does not refer to Dega religious activities except to say that the accused intended to slander the state's antireligious repression.

However, a report by Agence France-Presse suggested that the six accused were members of a Dega Evangelical Church who urged some 300 people to protest and who were preparing the secret departure of 22 people for Cambodia when they were arrested.

Their trial was not the first of its kind. Since 2001 and at regular intervals the official press has published reports of trials in the Highland provinces involving Montagnards charged with crimes against public security or national unity.

According to Human Rights Watch's latest report, various Vietnamese news organisations reported a total of 159 trials, usually involving small groups.

The document also notes that other trials have taken place without being reported and thus it is impossible to know how many people have been condemned.

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