For over 30 years, the Vietnamese Government have continued to subject the Degar people, a peaceful ethnic minority Christian group, to arbitrary arrests, beatings and forced denunciations of their religion, with little or no repercussions at all. Seeking political autonomy and freedom to practice their religion, outside of the communist rule, the Degar people face continuous oppression and restrictions to living their lives, every day.
As the indigenous peoples of the Central Highlands of Vietnam, they are also sometimes referred to as the Montagnard people, which means ‘’mountain people’’, taken from the French colonial period in Vietnam. The Degar people constantly face the onslaught of rising communist ambitions, and the consequence of not adhering to the Vietnamese government’s demands. Since the Vietnam War, the Vietnamese have grown increasingly suspicious of the Degar people due to their Christian faith being a reason to cause them to sympathise with the French and Americans.
Earlier this year, Vietnamese civilians ambushed the Montagnard family of A Hling, 68, which included children, and armed with machetes attacked them, slashing their arms and legs. The family members were even too afraid to go to the nearby Vietnamese clinic for any treatment as the clinics were well known to poison, abuse and even actively euthanize Degars. Though the attack was reported to the local authorities, security forces refused to investigate charges against the machete wielding Vietnamese attackers.
There have even been reports that the Vietnamese authorities have been encouraging and inciting such violence against the Degar people. Where it was once common practice for the Vietnamese civilians to be allowed to attack the Degar people, the authorities are now actively promoting violence against them and hiring inciters to provoke retaliation attacks.
The Degar people are being increasingly marginalised, being deprived of their basic human rights. As well as physical abuse, they are constantly persecuted, restricted in their religious practices and also face their land being taken from them.
The government has declared that Dega Protestantism is not a legitimate religion and any association with unregistered house churches which claim to be religious Dega houses are in fact a cover for a Montagnard independence movement. In November 2010, Vietnamese security forces attacked defenceless worshippers at a Degar prayer service in the Ploi Kret Krot village in the Gia Lai province. Despite the worshippers being completely peaceful, the police confiscated and destroyed all their religious artefacts, including crosses and pictures of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. The police then proceeded to beat the people, which included women and many elderly people and children, with electric prods, batons, kicking them till they were unconscious, with others fleeing. The names of 22 victims have been reported so far, and they have tried to go into hiding since the attack. This is as they fear further action being taken by the Vietnamese authorities, as they have already set up searches and patrol the villages for worshippers. They have even threatened the villagers with arrest and torture should they report the incidents to anyone overseas.
Human Rights Watch has reported that there have been many forced public renunciations by the Degar people in 2010 and 2011. The state media portrays many public ceremonies, held with police officials, which consist of public criticisms of the Degars followed by them ‘willingly’ admitting their wrongdoings and abandoning the Dega Protestant religion. In September 2010, one such public ceremony saw 29, 50 people from four villages in Duc Co district, Gia Lai be subjected to such a fate.
Vietnamese state media has portrayed the many incidents of arrests and imprisonment to be in response to the conflicts between rubber plantation guards and ethnic minority highlanders, which occurred in mid 2010 in the Chu Prong district of Gia Lai. The consequence is that the authorities have created destabilising circumstances which in turn makes it difficult attackers of the Degar people to be held accountable and punished. In fact, it allows for further torment as authorities have greater grounds for arrest, torture and imprisonment.
The Degar People demand that the Vietnamese communist government; recognise them as equal citizens of Vietnam, addressing their concerns through peaceful dialogue, stop persecuting Degar Christians and allow them to worship freely, without fear of being arrested, tortured or killed and for them to address the confiscation of the Degar ancestral lands in the context of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of which Vietnam is a signatory.
The Degar people, like any other should be able to live their lives with their basic human rights, indigenous rights and religious rights all protected. This is yet another case of indigenous people being subjected to great injustices by the authorities that commit major human rights violations daily. The Vietnamese government, much like the Chinese government with regards to the Uighurs, are performing what can only be seen as ethnic cleansing in its most blatant form, aiming to eradicate elements of any kind of threat to their regime.