Vietnam jails 17 Montagnards for “undermining national security”

A court in Vietnam's restive Central Highlands has sentenced 17 hill tribe people up to 10 years in jail for undermining national security and unity during an Easter weekend protest, an official said Monday. In three separate trials in Dak Nong province last week, the provincial People's Court handed down jail terms from three to 10 years for members of the Ede ethnic minority group, the court official said on condition of anonymity. They were convicted of forcing ethnic minority people, collectively called Montagnards, to flee to neighboring Cambodia, luring people to join protests causing national security and public disorder, and distorting the policies of the Communist Party and government, he said.

Tens of thousands of hill tribe people took to the streets in Daklak, Dak Nong and Gia Lai provinces over Easter weekend to protest government restrictions on their Protestant Christian faith and confiscation of their ancestral lands. International human rights groups claimed 10 protesters were killed in clashes with police, but Hanoi said only two died after being pelted with rocks thrown by other protesters.

At least a dozen Montagnards have been jailed in Daklak and Gia Lai provinces for their involvement in the protests. More than 500 who fled to Cambodia have been put under U.N. refugee protection.

Most indigenous Montagnards are Protestant Christians, who for years have suffered the expropriation of their land and religious persecution. During the Vietnam war the Montagnard population, when attempting to create an independent state, lined up in support of the United States armed forces.