8 jailed in Vietnam for seeking to establish separate state

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A court in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai Tuesday handed down jail sentences of three to 11 years to eight people who used religious beliefs to incite minority people to establish their own state.

Seven men and a woman, all of them ethnic people themselves, were found guilty of "sabotaging national solidarity" under Article 87 of the Penal Code.

In 2002 Y Gyin, 71, spread rumors about the appearance of Virgin Mary in Kon Tum Province's Ha Mon Commune.

She then created a so-called Ha Mon religion, and persuaded ethnic people in the Central Highlands to join.

She and the seven others received instructions from some exiled members of Fulro, a separatist organization made up of members of hill tribes now living in the US, to call on people to establish their own state.

They then began to distribute religious documents in Gia Lai, Kon Tum and Dak Lak Provinces until their arrest on January 14.

Prosecutors said many minority families abandoned their farm work and stopped taking care of their children because they were busy praying to soon go to "heaven."

But the court said Y Gyin did not intend to overthrown the administration but had been "used" by Fulro members, and handed her the lightest sentence of three years.

It gave the longest term of 11 years to A Tach, the mastermind behind the attempts to establish a separate nation for Central Highlands people.

The others got between seven and 10 years.

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