Two more members of a mostly-Christian population in the Central Highlands of Vietnam have died at the hands of authorities, according to a U.S.-based foundation whose leaders recently issued a plea to President Bush to ask Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet about such tragedies when the two meet later this month.

The death toll from the communist government’s persecution of Christians there actually is rising by three, but one of the deaths happened some time ago, only to be reported recently. The two other deaths have happened just in recent weeks, according to officials with the the Montagnard Foundation.

As WND reported, that group just days ago sent an open letter to Bush asking him to pressure the president of Vietnam to stop the “persecution, torture, killings and imprisonment” of the Degar Montagnards, a group of people who sided with the U.S. during the Vietnam war and have been persecuted since.

The foundation said an estimated 350 Degar Montagnards are imprisoned for standing up for human rights, spreading Christianity, or fleeing to Cambodia. “These prisoners are subjected to torture, including electric shock treatment, and withheld food and medical care,” the foundation said.

Its new report documented the death on May 29, 2007, of Dieu Suoi, a Christian who was tortured by police and prison officials. He was arrested in 2005 “because he was a house church Christian who refused to join the official church,” the foundation said. He was beaten with batons and shocked, then imprisoned.

Dieu Suoi

His health deteriorated in prison, and on May 27, police returned him to his family, who insisted he be hospitalized because he had been beaten so badly they hardly recognized him. Suoi, 30, died in two days, the report said.

Another death happened just a few weeks earlier, when Sui H’Krong, 55, a Christian woman, died at her home after she was released from a hospital after surgery.

She had gone to a doctor in March because of stomach pains, but was referred immediately to a hospital where she was taken directly in to surgery.

Sui H’Krong

“After the surgical operation was done, Dr. La Van Thang told her he could not find anything wrong,” the report said. She was sent home, where her health quickly failed and she died.

“Her family fears that she was experimented on and did not receive proper medical care,” the foundation report said.

The third report that just came in involved Y-Kuot Enuol, 41, who was arrested in 2001 and subjected to torture for several years in prison. After his death in late 2004, “security police threatened his family not to tell anyone about what had happened … or they too will also be tortured and killed by the police,” the foundation report said.

The open letter to Bush had been written by Kok Ksor, the president of the foundation, and describes how the attacks began as soon as the communists took over South Vietnam after the U.S. military pullout.

“One of those victims was my uncle, a civilian congressman for the Montagnards who was publicly executed in 1975,” Ksor wrote. “Ever since the Vietnamese government has continued land exploitation, Christian persecution, torture, killings and imprisonment of our people. Religious persecution continues today as authorities torture house church Christians who resist joining the ‘official’ church.”

“Mr. President, We ask that you: Strongly urge Vietnam to release all of the estimated 350 Montagnard Degar Prisoners from Vietnamese prisons…,” the letter said, citing a Human Rights Watch report documenting those cases.

The letter also is asking the U.S. to consider restoring Vietnam to the list of nations cited as “Countries of Particular Concern,” for its persecution of religious and minority groups. And it also would like the State Department to include the Montagnard Foundation as relations between the U.S. and Vietnam develop.

“We are not asking the United States to abandon relations with Vietnam and we do not want progress between the United States and Vietnam to be stifled. We know the world of politics is complex but we cry out in desperation to you,” the letter said. “Inside the Central Highlands our people desperately await to hear some news that an American president has remembered them.”

“As you may know the Montagnard Degar people were allies to the United States during the Vietnam War and U.S. veterans came to know our people like brothers,” Ksor said. “In fact, during the Vietnam War our people were considered one of America’s most loyal allies and it is estimated that at any one time over 40,000 Montagnards served alongside their American comrades. Throughout the … war it is estimated 100,000 Montagnards served with the U.S. military and by the end of the war, over a quarter of our population, over 200,000 people, had died including half of all adult males,” he wrote. The communists, on taking over, he said, “enacted revenge,” and it continues.

Leaving the situation as it is would mean “surveillance, arrests, beatings, electric shock torture, imprisonment and murdering,” he said.

The foundation also announced plans for a peaceful demonstration on June 16 outside the White House, “calling for an end to persecution of their people by the Vietnamese communist government,” which will be followed by a prayer vigil at the Vietnam Wall Memorial.

In a recent report from Michael Ireland, of ASSIST News, he documented the ongoing harassment.

Citing Human Rights Watch documentation, he said Vietnam is targeting “those perceived as following ‘Dega Christianity,’ an unsanctioned form of evangelical Christianity.”

HRW said the government has ordered a ban, calling it a political movement, not a religion. The organization said police in recent weeks have conducted midnight raids on villages, ransacking homes and have beaten women and children.

The abuse also has been documented by Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom.

Related offer:

For regular updates on the persecuted church, sign up for free Voice of the Martyrs newsletter.

Related stories:

U.S. allies beg Bush for help

Christians persecuted in Vietnam

Vietnam burns homes of Christians

Vietnam persecutes believers as PM meets Bush

Vietnamese Christians flee for their lives

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.