Arbitrary arrests, beatings and torture, these are some of the crimes perpetrated by Vietnamese authorities that are driving ethnic Montagnards to flee to Cambodia, according to a Human Rights Watch study released yesterday.
The report, titled Persecuting ‘Evil Way’ Religion, calls on the Kingdom to immediately stop cooperating in efforts with Vietnam to block Montagnards, and other Christian ethnic groups, from seeking asylum in the Kingdom.
A news conference in Bangkok to launch the study – based on interviews with 21 Montagnards who have fled the Central Highland provinces of Gia Lai and Dak Lak over the past two years – was yesterday shut down by Thai authorities.
The junta claimed the event, scheduled at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, would impact relations with its communist neighbour, whose prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, is set to visit next month.
The report catalogues an ongoing pattern of persecution against the groups to eliminate “evil way” religions such as De Ga Protestantism and Ha Mon Catholicism, both considered “reactionary” by Vietnam’s communist authorities.
The stories speak of churches being shut down, threats to family members, constant harassment by police and arbitrary detention, sometimes for days.
Victims tell of being beaten and tortured with electric shocks by officers demanding they renounce their religion.
“I was hit everywhere; they even used electricity to shock me,” a Montagnard from the Chu Puh district of Gia Lai told HRW in 2015, explaining he was detained in February 2014 for three days and again in March for two days and two nights.
“After they hit me, I couldn’t hear anything from my ears … The police told me if I continued going to church then the police would continue arresting me, so that is why I left Vietnam.”
In March, the government granted provisional refugee status to 13 Montagnards who were escorted to Phnom Penh by the UN. However, the Kingdom has since sent at least 54 back to Vietnam.
More than 100 Montagnard asylum seekers currently hiding in Cambodia are being refused permission to register as refugees.
Director of the Ministry of Interior’s refugee department Kem Sarin yesterday rejected HRW’s claim it was failing in its obligations under the United Nations Refugee Convention.
“Some countries put them in detention but we don’t, because they cross illegally into Cambodia.”