Đời SốngVietnam

10 defendants given life sentences for Dak Lak attacks

After a four-day trial, 10 defendants were sentenced to life in prison on terrorism charges for attacks on two People’s Commune headquarters in Vietnam’s Central Highlands last June, state media, defendants and their families said.

A total of 100 individuals were tried in the case, which lawyers in the country criticized as a hasty show trial. 

The remaining 90 were handed prison sentences ranging from three-and-a-half years to 20 years, mostly on terrorism-related charges, Vietnamese state media said.


The armed attacks on the offices in Ea Ktur and Ea Tieu communes of Dak Lak province left nine people dead, including four policemen, two commune officials and three local residents.

One lawyer said it was impossible to convict 100 defendants over just four days.

“Everything has been predetermined before the official sentencing,” said Vietnamese lawyer Dang Dinh Manh, who was not involved in the case. “The court’s trial, the prosecutor’s arguments, and the lawyer’s defense [were] all just done in an artificial and sketchy way to quickly end the trial.”

It is unclear how many defense lawyers participated in the trial, and whether they were hired by the defendants’ families or appointed by the court. A relative of one of the defendants told RFA that the family could not visit their detained loved one or hire a lawyer.

The convictions appeared to be based on confessions. State media reported that the defendants confessed that they were “lured, incited and forced” to attack by counter-revolutionary groups abroad, including those in the United States and Thailand.

Alleged U.S.-based masterminds

At the start of the trial, authorities said all the participants were members of a U.S.-based organization that ordered them to infiltrate Vietnam and carry out the attack.

Several of those convicted were American citizens, sentenced in absentia because they are outside Vietnam. 


One, named Y Sol Nie, who lives in the United States, was accused of  “commanding, leading, manipulating and directing” the attacks, and given a life sentence. Another,  Y Mut Mlo, said to be a mastermind behind the attacks, was sentenced to 11 years.

The area where the attacks took place is home to about 30 indigenous tribes who have a long history of conflict with the Vietnamese majority, and claim they have been discriminated against. 

They are often referred to as Montagnards, a term coined by French colonialists to describe the tribes who live in the Central Highlands, many of whom are Christians, but Vietnam has rejected use of the term.

Alur Y Min, a pastor and ethnic Ede who has been living in Thailand since 2017, told RFA last week that said the Vietnamese government had been using the police and military to oppress Montagnards for decades by taking their land and denying them freedom of religion.

While 93 of the defendants are from ethnic minorities, Vietnamese authorities have denied that ethnic discrimination, injustice and poverty were behind the attack.

Yet during a meeting of the government’s Judicial Committee in September to discuss the attacks, Deputy Minister of Public Security Tran Quoc To was quoted by state media as saying that the root causes of the shootings were the “socio-economic problems of the Montagnards in the region – the gap between rich and poor; land management; building the political system, and finally, some other issues on security and social order management at the grassroots administration.”

The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi said in an email to RFA that it called on Vietnam to ensure that the trial took place fairly, transparently and according to legal procedures.

Mostly terrorism charges

Among those in court, 53 were convicted of “terrorism aimed at opposing the people’s government,” and 45 were convicted of “terrorism.” One person was charged with “organizing others to leave or enter the country illegally,” and one was charged with “concealing crimes.” 

Y Quynh Bdap, one of six defendants convicted on terrorism charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison, told RFA that the Vietnamese government intentionally and wrongly implicated him because it wants to destroy his human rights organization. 

“They didn’t produce any evidence but accused me of that,” said the cofounder of Montagnards Stand for Justice, an organization that advocates for the religious freedom of ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands.

The court convicted Y Quyhn Bdap in absentia, though he has denied participating in the attack.

“I am in no way related to that armed group,” he said. “It is absurd for the Vietnamese government to make such accusations!”

Another lawyer who wasn’t involved in the case, Dang Dinh Manh, said he believes that the lawyers and legal assistants involved in the trial did not fulfill their responsibilities.

“Based on information reported by the state-owned press, I even think they sold out their client[s] with such an irresponsible defense,” he said. “I believe that it is impossible for all 100 Montagnard compatriots brought to court to be guilty.”

Translated by Mai Tran for RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.


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