'Compassion fatigue' may have influenced the decision to deny asylum to more than 100 Vietnamese claiming political persecution, their lawyer claimed yesterday. Neville Saroney QC, told the Court of Appeal the Government's refusal to recognise the boat people as refugees was 'perverse'. After the outbreak of the Sino-Vietnamese conflict in 1979 hundreds of ethnic Chinese were removed to remote concentration areas in Ha Tuyen, North Vietnam. They were stripped of their registration cards, homes and property, and forced to live in poverty, clearing trees and farming. Mr Justice Henry Litton said that 90 per cent of the world led a similarly harsh life. But Mr Saroney replied: 'No, 90 per cent do not live in confined areas under curfew. 'I accept a very substantial part of the world's population live like that, but in most cases they have freedom of choice. You deprive someone of their freedom and that is persecution.' Mr Saroney was speaking as he focused on Voong Khac Luong's family. Luong, 34, claimed officials beat his father to death when he asked why they were being confined, and said his sister-in-law committed suicide after she was raped by the village committee vice-chairman. When his grief-stricken brother, Vinh, attacked the official with a knife in revenge, he was jailed for 12 years. Their house was later gutted by fire. At a public meeting a few weeks later Luong accused the authorities of suppressing the ethnic Chinese and 'trampling on their dignity'. As he fled he heard gun shots behind him. Luong is one of four applicants representing more than 100 people who were denied refugee status after fleeing the concentration areas between 1989 and 1990. He told the refugee status review board he fled to Hong Kong because he feared further persecution in Vietnam. Mr Justice Litton said Luong's troubles appeared to stem from the fact the vice-chairman lusted after his sister-in-law. But Mr Saroney said it went beyond that. He likened the applicants' plight to someone from Shamshuipo being held in a remote area of the New Territories for 11 years and banned from speaking Chinese or leaving home after 9 pm. 'It's inconceivable in this day and age that it could be argued on any grounds and against any set of criteria that that was not persecution.' The hearing continues.