Vietnam Imprisons 17 for Easter Protest Incidents

A court in Vietnam's restive Central Highlands has sentenced 17 hill tribe people up to 10 years in jail for undermining national security and unity during an Easter weekend protest, an official said Monday.

The court official, who requested anonymity, told the Associated Press that the provincial People's Court handed down jail terms from three to 10 years for members of the Ede ethnic minority group, in three separate trials in Dak Nong province last week.

They were convicted of forcing ethnic minority people, collectively called Montagnards, to flee to neighboring Cambodia, luring people to join protests causing national security and public disorder, and distorting the policies of the Communist Party and government, he said.

It was during the Easter weekend of April 10 and 11, that tens of thousands of hill tribe people took to the streets in Daklak, Dak Nong and Gia Lai provinces over to protest government restrictions on their Protestant Christian faith and confiscation of their ancestral lands.

According to reports from Montagnards in the Central Highlands, civilians and Vietnamese security forces dressed in civilian clothes attacked the demonstrators with weapons, killing an unknown number of Montagnards and injuring hundreds more. Many were reported as missing, after having been arrested or having fled.

Two weeks after the events, Vietnam took foreign diplomats and journalists to the location of the unrest, allowing them to check things out for themselves. Yet with the restrictions imposed on the journalists and diplomats, many believe the truth about what happened was concealed.

While international human rights groups claimed that at least 10 protesters were killed in clashes with police, Hanoi said only two died after being pelted with rocks thrown by other protesters.

Since then at least a dozen Montagnards have been jailed in Daklak and Gia Lai provinces for their involvement in the protests. More than 500 who fled to Cambodia have been put under U.N. refugee protection, but several have opted to return to Vietnam, saying they're homesick.