A Vietnamese court has sentenced six ethnic minority Montagnards to prison terms of up to 17 years for anti-government activities including organizing protests demanding religious freedom and human rights, the official news agency reported Friday. The villagers from the Central Highlands were handed sentences ranging from seven years to 17 years at a court in Daklak province Thursday after being convicted of violating the country's national unity and causing public disorder, the Vietnam News Agency said.
The men, who were from the Krong Ana district and the provincial capital Buon Ma Thuot, were accused of various activities against the government, including inciting local residents to hold protests in 2004 calling for religious freedom and human rights, VNA said. The men were identified as Y. Kur BDap, Y. Ang Knul, Y. Ruih E. Ban, Y. Yoan HMok, Y. Mun Nie Hrah and Ksor Senat.
After completing their jail sentences, the men will be placed under an additional five years of surveillance, the agency said.
During Easter 2004, thousands of villagers,most of whom are Protestant, mounted mass demonstrations in the provincial capitals of Daklak and Gia Lai provinces, pressing for land rights and religious freedoms.
Following a military crackdown, thousands of Montagnards fled to neighboring Cambodia and hundreds have been given political asylum in the United States.
Dozens of the villagers have been given hefty prison terms in connection with the protests or for organizing an exodus of refugees to Cambodia.
Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department again placed Vietnam on its list of the world's worst violators of religious freedom. It is the second year in a row that Vietnam has been listed in the category of "countries of particular concern" ,which allows the U.S. the option of imposing sanctions.
Human rights groups have accused Vietnam of repressing religious rights, including forcing Montagnards to renounce their Christian faith and persecuting others who returned to Vietnam after fleeing to Cambodia, reports the AP. I.L.