THE Vietnamese government should immediately free Khmer Krom activists in prison or under house arrest for demonstrating, New York-based advocacy organisation Human Rights Watch said in a report Wednesday.
The 125-page report, "On the Margins: Rights Abuses of Ethnic Khmer in Vietnam's Mekong Delta", documents what the group calls a persistent, often violent campaign by Vietnam to stifle the rights and distinct identity of ethnic Khmers in the south of the country. It also accuses the Cambodian government of abbeting its "close ally" in the suppression of ethnic Khmers - known locally as Khmer Krom - who have fled across the border to Cambodia and proposes greater freedoms for their communities.
Human Rights Watch says it drew on witness interviews in both countries and internal Vietnamese government documents in its research, which it says reveals that "Khmer Krom in the Mekong Delta face serious restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, association, information and movement".
"This is bare-knuckled, indefensible political repression," said Brad Adams, the group's Asia director, in an email interview with the Post Wednesday, adding that the grip of both states on activists has tightened over the last year.
Publication of the report coincided with news of the release from prison of five activist ethnic Khmer monks in Vietnam. According to a statement from the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community, a Phnom Penh-based association, the Vietnamese government has still prohibited the men - all of whom were defrocked following their incarceration - from travelling, being re-ordained or stepping foot in Buddhist temples.
Ang Charith, head of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organisation, welcomed international attention on the issue.
"The rights of the Khmer Krom to practise their religion and live in peace is always abused by the Vietnamese state," he said. "And for the Khmer Krom who flee to Cambodia, their rights have also been violated and their security is uncertain."
Vietnamese embassy spokesman Trinh Ba Cam rejected the report, saying that the Vietnamese government did not discriminate against any of its 54 ethnic groups, so there is "no need to analyse the situation in detail".