A Vietnamese Montagnard Christian has been sentenced to 4.5 years in prison on charges of “secession and incitement” for conducting prayer meetings at his home, advocates say.
The sentencing comes amid ongoing tensions between religious practices and state policies in the communist nation, particularly affecting the Montagnard minority and their Christian faith.
Nay Y Blang, 48, associated with the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ, was sentenced last Friday without legal representation, the church's founder, Pastor Aga, told Radio Free Asia. His conviction was for allegedly inciting actions against the state’s interests.
The church, unrecognized by the state, has faced accusations of attempting to undermine national unity through its religious gatherings.
The United Kingdom-based rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide contends Blang’s right to practice his faith has been under siege, noting his previous imprisonments and fines for similar reasons.
The Montagnard community, to which Blang belongs, is predominantly Christian and has historically clashed with the Vietnamese government.
CSW founder Mervyn Thomas expressed deep concern over the lack of due process in Blang’s hearing and the broader implications for religious freedom in Vietnam.
“The Vietnamese government views the simple act of prayer as a direct threat to their power and legitimacy,” Thomas said. “No person should fear jail for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. These recent developments show that the human rights situation in Vietnam continues to deteriorate. We emphasize that this is part of a wider pattern of the targeting of religious and ethnic minorities across Vietnam that is often more severe in rural areas.”
Aga says Blang's sentencing is "unacceptable."
"If lawyer Ha Huy Son had been present …, it would have clearly been fair and transparent trial to see if Mr. Blang is guilty or not,” Aga was quoted as telling RFA. “But in reality, only people from the government were present, meaning the government can give Blang any sentence they want. Why were there no lawyers to defend or argue about legal issues."
Blang was previously fined and imprisoned for similar offenses, reflecting the Vietnamese government’s strict control over religious expression.
The Montagnard community's recent legal challenges include a mass trial where over 100 Montagnards were convicted on Jan. 22 of terrorism-related charges following an attack on provincial party offices in Dak Lak that were blamed on them.
The situation in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, where the Montagnard Christians reside, remains tense following the anti-government attack that resulted in multiple deaths, including local party officials.
The Ministry of Public Security identified those arrested simply as “Young people who harbored delusion and extreme attitudes and had been incited by ringleaders via the internet.”
The event raised significant human rights concerns, including the fairness of the judicial process and the treatment of religious and ethnic minorities in the Southeast Asian country with a one-party system led by the Communist Party.
According to CSW, 10 Montagnards were sentenced to life in prison, while other sentences ranged from 3.5 to 20 years in prison. Some overseas activists were also charged, with the government accusing U.S.-based activists of coordinating attacks, allegations those activists deny.
The international community, including human rights organizations, has criticized Vietnam’s treatment of the Montagnards and other minority groups, calling for greater religious freedom and justice.
Originally published by The Christian Post