Montagnards: The People of the Mountain
The Montagnards of Vietnam are a people often forgotten by the world. They are composed of several minority ethnic groups that live in the mountainous Vietnamese region of the Central Highlands. Current estimates place their population at around 2.25 million people. They are a people living independent lives generally centered around their home villages and agriculture.
During the Vietnamese War, the Montagnards were some of the most loyal allies to the American Army. They sacrificed over 250,000 men during the course of the war that ravaged their region. Due to missionary work and increased contact with American soldiers, a large Christian Protestant population sprouted up in the region in the 1950s-70s. After the Communists took over the country, many Montagnards fled to live in America. Currently the largest population of Montagnards outside of Vietnam is in North Carolina, where 20,000 Montagnards are estimated to live.
The Montagnards who stayed in Vietnam have faced the seizure of numerous acres of their ancestral land and protests have been met with vicious crackdowns from the Communist government. Many of the Montagnard Protestants do not trust the government sanctioned Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam and instead choose to worship in house churches. The Vietnamese government has not allowed these house churches to operate peacefully and deploys its security forces to hunt down church members in the highlands.
The government has adopted the strategy of attacking the religious liberty of the Montagnards by seizing their leaders. Pastor A Dao (pictured left) is a Montagnard Pastor who was arrested for simply exercising his beliefs. He is a pastor of the Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ and advocates for religious freedom throughout Vietnam. After attending a conference on Freedom of Religion and Beliefs in Southeast Asia in Timor-Leste, he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for “helping individuals to escape abroad illegally,” which is a charge that he denies. Like Pastor Dao, many other Protestant Montagnards continually face imprisonment, pressure to renounce their religion, and physical torture for their beliefs.
Despite the pressure the Montagnards faced from every side, they carved a home for themselves in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. BPSOS will continue to advocate for the freedom of imprisoned Montagnards, like Pastor A Dao, and for the government to respect the religious beliefs of all Vietnamese people.
Check out these links if you want to read more about the Montagnards and Pastor A Dao:
US Commission on International Religious Freedom 2018 Report: https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2018USCIRFAR.pdf