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A Vietnamese court sentenced two Hmong ethnic minority men to life in prison Wednesday for attempting to overthrow the state and establish a separate state in a rural district of northwestern Vietnam, state media and local police reported.

Sung A Sinh, 37, and Lau A Lenh, 49, were found guilty of masterminding a plan to establish a Hmong state in the Muong Nhe district of Dien Bien province between August 2018 and March 2019, and of manipulating others to achieve their goal. They also sought to issue their own currency and build an army, the court said.

A radio report on the sentencing by the Voice of Vietnam quoted the presiding judge as saying that the pair’s activities were “dangerous to the society, infringing upon the political regime of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” according to Reuters.

The Dien Bien People’s Court also sentenced a dozen of the men’s alleged accomplices to jail terms of 24 months to 20 years for covering for them and attempting to overthrow the people’s administration in Muong Nhe District.

The indictment stated that Lau A Lenh had joined an organization that has sought to create a Hmong state in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam since 2010. He was prosecuted earlier, but fled to escape punishment.

Lenh and Sinh discussed with their accomplices the establishment of the Hmong state in the Muong Nhe district, aimed at overthrowing the local people’s administration and abolishing the political system enshrined in Vietnam’s constitution, according to the indictment.

In late April and May 2011, thousands of Hmong staged the largest-ever protest in Dien Bien province, but local authorities mobilized police and army forces to stop it.

After the unsuccessful protest, some Hmong went to Thailand to seek refugee status.

Three others apprehended

On Thursday, police in Gia Lai province in Vietnam’s Central Highlands arrested three followers of the group who had eluded authorities for eight years while they were in hiding and in remote contact with others in the group by phone. They were apprehended in an area between the communes of H’ra and Po Lang in Mang Yang district.

Police said they found propaganda documents against the state of Vietnam on the three men when they were apprehended in an area between the communes of H’ra and Po Lang in Mang Yang.

Vietnamese authorities say members of the group have violated the country’s religious laws, and that they are not recognized by the state, a source from the country’s national-level Government Committee for Religious Affairs.

Though Communist-run Vietnam’s constitution provides for freedom of worship, the government has imposed a range of legislation restricting the religious practices of Catholics, Buddhists and others.

The Hmong have come under fire in recent years for their funeral practices with wakes that last several days to a week.

In October 2019, authorities launched a campaign to limit the length and scale of Hmong funerals, restricting the number of buffaloes and cows slaughtered and the practice of burning fake money and throwing votive paper on the road during funeral processions. The campaign also limits the amount of time that a corpse can remain unburied.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnam Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.