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Jesus Looking Over Prisoner’s Shoulder
Will this Degar Montagnard and hundreds of others be forsaken by the international community?
By Scott Johnson
"In America’s Bible belt Christianity is indeed alive and the Degar Montagnard Christians believe God and Jesus will not forsake them."
The photograph is of a Degar Montagnard Christian named Jana Bom. He has been imprisoned since 2001 in what can only be described as a hell hole of a Vietnamese communist prison, where torture and brutal abuse are meted out daily. Jana has over five years left to serve in prison and his family prays that he will survive. If you look closely in the photograph you can see a picture of Jesus with arms outstretched just over his right shoulder. This photograph was smuggled out of Vietnam by other Christians. Jana Bom himself is a Christian, one of hundreds currently imprisoned in Vietnam and he reportedly hasn’t abandoned his faith.

Jana Bom was born in 1956 and he is from Ploi Kueng Grai village, commune Ha Bau, district Dak Doa, in GiaLai province. He was arrested and tortured on February 6, 2001 for participating in the peaceful demonstrations of February 2001 in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. On September 26, 2001 he was tried at a local court in Gialai province and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for trumped up charges of attempting to overthrow the Vietnamese government, when in fact all he did was participate in peaceful protests calling for religious freedom and indigenous land rights.

Jana is currently suffering badly in Vietnam’s notorious Trai Ba-Sao prison in Ha Nam. He has been tortured by Vietnamese authorities and endured numerous beatings. He has been hanged upside-down and flogged until he became unconscious. He can no longer feel or move one of his legs and is in a fragile mental and physical state. According to his relatives who have been allowed to visit him a few times, his body is like a skeleton due to lack of proper nutrition, medical care and torture. He suffers today like so many of his people who as a race have endured decades of persecution by the Vietnamese communist government.

Kroih Ksor and Kroc Ksor are also Degar Montagnard Christians who were imprisoned for peaceful activities. Kroih is serving 11 years imprisonment for the same offences as Jana while Kroc was imprisoned for 7 years for merely trying to flee to Cambodia. Both have suffered horrible abuse while in prison. Kroc notably happens to be the half brother of the President of the Montagnard Foundation and the Vietnamese authorities tied him to a flag pole and publicly flogged him in June 2004.

I first saw Jana, Kroih and Kroc on a VHS tape copied from a Vietnamese state television program that was aired in February 2001. The tape was smuggled out of Vietnam and on the tape both Jana and Kroih were in custody having been arrested. They were “confessing” their crimes to the Vietnamese public, however, they were just two of the thousands of Degar Montagnards who staged peaceful demonstrations calling for an end to government confiscation of their ancestral lands and religious persecution. These demonstrations took the Vietnamese communist regime by surprise but soon the military and security police responded, by brutally crushing the public protests. Both Jana and Kroih were arrested along with hundreds of others in the following days. Kroc then had not been arrested but was under “control” of the police and sitting in his mother’s longhouse he was forced to read documents the police had given him. The documents were denouncements of the Montagnard Foundation which his mother Ksor H’Ble had in fact refused to read. She had refused to denounce her other son Kok Ksor, President of the US based Montagnard Foundation who was accused of orchestrating the February demonstrations. Thus her son Kroc read the documents denouncing the human rights activities of the Montagnard Foundation. For her silence Ksor H’Ble however, (who was over 80 years old) was kicked and beaten by the police and she received several broken ribs.

It was years later when Kroc Ksor tried escaping Vietnam. Under constant threat from police he tried fleeing Vietnam but was arrested on 28 June 2004. He has since been in jail having been sentenced to seven years imprisonment in a secret one day trial for the crime of fleeing Vietnam. The security forces publicly flogged him as a warning to other Degar Montagnards who try fleeing the country.

Since 2001 almost two thousand Degar Montagnards have escaped across the Cambodian border where even today in 2007 many remain under protection of the UN. The United States has graciously accepted over one thousand of such refugees in the last six years, but Degar Montagnards like Jana, Kroih and Kroc however, remain in Vietnam where they suffer.

In North Carolina I interviewed some of the Degar Montagnards who had participated in the 2001 demonstration and also others who witnessed the second mass demonstration by Degar Montagnards that occurred on Easter 2004. The 2004 demonstration however, was planned as a week long prayer vigil but this too was brutally crushed by Vietnam’s security forces. The 2004 Easter prayer vigil actually never commenced as security forces ambushed the Degar Montagnards on the first day, using knives, machetes, clubs and other weapons. Human Rights Watch reported 10 killed including a 80 year old blind woman who was dragged off a tractor and beaten to death. The US State Department reported killings in at least “double digit figures” and I personally spoke to survivors who escaped to the United States who saw hundreds, I repeat hundreds of Degar Montagnards lying unconscious or dead, bleeding on the ground. One witness old me explicitly he saw 35 to 40 dead bodies on one street alone in Buonmathuot.

To this day the Vietnamese communist government keeps a strict watch over the Central Highlands while security forces arrest, torture and kill Degar Montagnards who pray in Christian house churches or call their relatives in the United States with cell phones. Their goal is to crush the Christian House Church movement. In the prisons conditions are notorious, and political and religious prisoners like Jana, Kroih and Kroc may not survive the abuse. Human Rights Watch reported over 350 Degar Montagnards being imprisoned for peaceful religious and political activities and the US State Department described the death in custody of the Degar Montagnard Christian named Y Ngo Adrong in June 2006 as a “credible report of extrajudicial killing”.

Sadly most of the public concerns about Vietnam’s lack of human rights are silent on these Degar Montagnard prisoners and the question remains will the international community, the US Government, the United Nations, the European Union and others, including the main stream media forsake these indigenous peoples? A call to Christians around the world is needed, to pressure Vietnam to spare the persecution of these indigenous people.

Lying in a prison cell a Degar Montagnard woman named H’Thiu Ya was chained to the floor, her legs locked between two logs. On 14 May 2007 the police allowed her 30 minutes to see her children before they were dragged away screaming in tears for their mother who was later sentenced to prison for over 3 years for participating in Christian house church activities. I felt sick when I heard this news, especially since I had interviewed other torture victims and knew what H’thui had to look forward to.

A sad situation facing a largely forgotten race of people. Yet those Degar Montagnards who escape from Vietnam still cling to hope for their people. In the heartland of America, in Churches in North Carolina former refugees and exiles gather and if you ever step in off the street on a Sunday, the pickup trucks, the neon signs, and the symbols of modern society vanish briefly. The highlands of Vietnam comes alive as the choir in tribal dress sings a Christian hymn in an ancient tribal language. A foreign language to America but not a foreign language to God. In America’s bible belt Christianity is indeed alive and the Degar Montagnard Christians believe God and Jesus will not forsake them.


HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Vietnam: Montagnards Face Religious, Political Persecution http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2006/06/14/vietna13542.htm

YOUTUBE: Degar Montagnard Torture Victims Speak Out

MFI PRESS RELEASE: The Story of H’Thui Ya (above)
Jim Dykstra