A week after being deported, a Christian Montagnard asylum seeker was still being held and beaten by Vietnamese police yesterday, while his wife remained effectively under house arrest, according to a Cambodian relative.
The ethnic Jarai couple, along with their two young children and 9-month-old baby, were arrested in Ratanakkiri province last Sunday and deported back to Vietnam, where they had fled alleged persecution two weeks earlier. The father, Klan Pen, was born in Ratanakkiri’s Andong Meas district but had moved to Vietnam and married a Jarai-Vietnamese woman.
His brother, Klan Ren, who still lives in Andong Meas, said yesterday that since being forced back to Vietnam last week, the family had been punished for their attempted escape.
According to Ren, his brother, whom he said was still being detained yesterday, had been violently interrogated by Ga Lai provincial authorities.
“They hit him with their hands and sticks when he could not answer because his Vietnamese language is not good,” he said.
While the mother and children were back at home, they had to report to local police two times a day to prove they were not attempting another escape, Ren said.
“She [the mother] cries at home and she doesn’t have any food. She has called me to go there to help her since she is not allowed to go anywhere. She is always at home. I do not dare to go there though.”
The Vietnamese Embassy, as well as officials from Cambodia’s Interior Ministry and National Police, could not be reached yesterday, but last week Moeng Sineath, spokesman for Ratanakkiri Provincial Hall, claimed that the family were illegal immigrants, not asylum seekers.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday reiterated the provincial official’s claims, saying the refusal to acknowledge the asylum seekers was an attempt to retain neutrality.
“So, refugees for economics, for politics – we do not value that, because we want Cambodia to be a country with independence and neutrality,” Siphan said, adding that deportations of foreign nationals were aimed at maintaining “good relations with neighbouring countries”.
In a statement yesterday, Human Rights Watch condemned the deportations and called on donors to “jointly and publicly press the Cambodian government to acknowledge the existence of Vietnamese asylum seekers and fairly assess their claims for refugee status”.
But yesterday evening, police continued to seek the arrest of 27 other Montagnards still in hiding, according to Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc.
Thy, who has defended the Montagnards’ right to process asylum claims, was publicly threatened with legal action by Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak last week.