HANOI, Vietnam (AP) -- Vietnam has intensified a crackdown against indigenous minorities in the Central Highlands where mass protests broke out over land rights and religious repression, a human rights group charged Tuesday.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said the mostly Christian Montagnards have endured interrogations, detentions and beatings by officials. Victims include church leaders, people who tried to seek asylum in Cambodia and those suspected of helping a separatist movement.
Villagers said authorities banned Christmas services last month and arrested or detained dozens of people to keep them from worship, the report charged.
Human Rights Watch said at least 70 Montagnards face harsh prison sentences for joining unprecedented demonstrations in 2001 against religious restrictions and government encroachment on their land. An estimated 1,500 Montagnards fled to Cambodia following the crackdown.
In the past year, authorities have shut some 400 highlands churches, many believed to be affiliated with a Protestant movement advocating Montagnard rights.
Villagers have reported being forced to recant their faith and local TV stations and newspapers have regularly broadcast coverage of Christians ''volunteering'' to leave the church. Public gatherings are banned.
Hanoi has repeatedly denied accusations of repression against Montagnards, some of whom fought on the anti-communist side during the Vietnam War. The regime recognizes six religions that accept its control.
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