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Thailand : Montagnard indigenous activist must not be extradited to face Torture In Vietnam

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Thai authorities must not forcibly return a Montagnard and Ede Indigenous human rights activist to Vietnam where he would be at severe risk of torture, Amnesty International said ahead of his extradition hearing next week.

Y Quynh Bdap, a UN-recognized refugee who has been in Thailand since 2018, was arrested by Thai authorities for “overstaying” his visa in Bangkok on 11 June 2024 following a request for his extradition by the Vietnamese authorities.

Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reportedly said the request was because a Vietnamese court had sentenced Bdap to 10 years’ imprisonment on terrorism charges in January 2024.

“The Vietnamese authorities have a long history of violent and racist persecution against Montagnard Indigenous peoples. Thailand must not give in to Viet Nam’s blatant attempts at transnational repression,” said Amnesty International’s Thailand Researcher Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong.

“Viet Nam’s courts are not independent. Bdap was tried and found guilty of terrorism charges in absentia in a clear violation of his right to a fair trial.”

Y Quynh Bdap belongs to the Ede ethnic group, one of the Montagnard groups of the Central Highlands of Viet Nam. As the co-founder of Montagnards Stand for Justice, he has been playing an important role as a human rights defender advocating for Montagnard people’s rights through speaking out against religious persecution faced by his community.

He is one of six Montagnard Indigenous people who Vietnamese authorities charged with terrorism under Article 299 of Viet Nam’s Penal Code for an attack on a government office in June 2023 in Dak Lak province in Viet Nam.

State-run news in Viet Nam reported that he is wanted for his alleged involvement in the attack that resulted in the death of nine people, including Commune police officers. Bdap, who is currently being held at Bangkok Remand Prison in Thailand, denies the accusations against him. His extradition hearing begins on 15 July 2024.

“The Vietnamese authorities have a clear pattern of targeting ethnic and religious minorities such as the Montagnards in a way that amounts to persecution,” Tatiyakaroonwong said.

“Should Bdap be returned to Viet Nam it is highly likely he will be tortured and subjected to misused anti-terrorism laws. Thailand cannot send him back to Viet Nam knowing this will be his fate.”

Montagnards’ long fight for justice

Vietnamese authorities have systematically repressed ethnic and religious minority groups exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly, particularly members of independent religious groups not officially recognized by the government.

Amnesty International spoke with a number of Montagnards who had left the Dak Lak region or were still there after the June 2023 attack. Some described fleeing the country after arbitrary arrest and torture by police officers, often having to cross borders irregularly, at night and through the forest. Others described a total lockdown across the province that was applied for months against the Montagnard Indigenous people.

In 2023, a Montagnard refugee told Amnesty International that he was arrested by the police and dragged into a dark room where he was injected with unknown substance and detained in the room for two days. During these two days, police entered the room to question him about the attack and hit him on his legs, shoulder, hands and head with a rubber baton.

“I lost my consciousness, I felt dizzy and had no way of getting back to normal, until the day they released me. I was confused about everything that was happening,” the Montagnard refugee said.

In an interview with Amnesty International in November 2023, Y Quynh Bdap said that he was taken to a police station and tortured in 2010.

Torture and ill-treatment in Vietnam’s prisons

Despite ratifying the UN Convention against Torture in 2015, the Vietnamese government has taken almost no steps towards implementing changes and continues to torture its prisoners. In the 2016 report Prisons within Prisons: Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam, Amnesty International documented torture and ill-treatment systematically committed by authorities in Vietnamese prisons against activists and prisoners of conscience, including members of ethnic and Indigenous minorities.

Dar (Pseudonym), a former Montagnard prisoner who was arrested in 2008, was held in solitary confinement in a very small cell for the first 10 months of his detention. He also reported being hit with sticks and rubber tubes, punched, kicked and electrocuted, and said his legs were burnt with lit paper. Sometimes, he said he was hung by the arms while the police beat him until he lost consciousness.

In March 2021, Amnesty International further received reports that Nguyễn Văn Đức Độ, an activist currently serving 11 years in prison, was kept in solitary confinement for more than 300 days – amounting to torture under international law. During the initial phase of his solitary confinement, he said prison authorities chained both of his legs for 10 consecutive days and gave him dirty water and food mixed with human excrement.

Thailand must abide by international law

Thailand has an obligation to respect international law and standards including the non-refoulment principles and the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Treatment. As a party to the Convention, Thailand must not return a person to another state where there are substantial grounds that they would be subjected to torture.

This principle is also reflected in Thailand’s Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance, which came into effect in February 2023. Section 13 of the Act states that, “no government organizations or public officials shall expel, deport, or extradite a person to another country where there are substantial grounds for believing that the person would be in danger of torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, or enforced disappearance.”

“The case of Y Quynh Bdap clearly illustrates the Vietnamese authorities’ efforts to exercise its long-arm repression against human rights defenders beyond its own border,” Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong said.

“Thailand must uphold its international and domestic obligations to prevent refoulement of those seeking refuge in Thailand from forcible return to places where they are at risk of grave human rights violations.

“Thai authorities must immediately release Bdap, stop his extradition process and ensure the protection of Bdap and other Indigenous and religious minorities who have fled persecution from Viet Nam to Thailand.”

Amnesty International – July 11, 2024

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