Vietnamese Christian Y Ngun Khul, who was imprisoned for advocating religious freedom for his Christian Montagnard community, and protesting against authorities closing his church, was released after 16 years in prison in late February, in poor health.
“I have kidney failure and high blood pressure and had a gastrointestinal haemorrhage”, he stated on 5 March .
Y Ngun endured beatings from prison guards, leaving him physically scarred, and was repeatedly kicked in the stomach. “Now I can eat only a bowl of rice per day because I have stomach problems that make it hard for me to breathe. My foot is swelling, too, making it hard for me to move,” he explained.
During his absence, Y Ngun’s family lost their home and land. Y Ngun’s family were able to visit him only four times in 16 years, as their home in Dak Lok province was more than 600 miles away from Nghe An province, where Y Ngun was imprisoned.
Ngun was given an 18-year prison sentence on 20 April 2004. He had highlighted government discrimination against his community, often targeted by the Vietnamese government.
Many Montagnard Christians have fled into neighbouring Cambodia and Thailand to escape government-sanctioned persecution. A report in 2011 stated more than
350 Montagnard Christians, who live in the Central Highlands, had been imprisoned by the government since 2001.
In 2019, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCRIF) reported
numerous instances of local authorities attempting to coerce these Vietnamese Christians to recant their faith, sometimes with threats of physical assault or banishment. The report estimated that 10,000 Montagnards remain stateless because local authorities refuse to issue ID cards, household registration or birth certificates, often because they refuse to renounce Christ.