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Cablegate: Uscirf Visits Human Rights Lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le

VZCZCXRO2902
PP RUEHHM
DE RUEHHI #2038/01 3380911
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 040911Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6822
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 4014
RHEHNSC/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HANOI 002038

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/IRF AND DRL/AWH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KIRF PHUM PREL PGOV ASEC VM

SUBJECT: USCIRF VISITS HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYERS NGUYEN VAN DAI AND LE
THI CONG NHAN IN PRISON

REF: HANOI 1852

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) On October 22, 2007 a visiting United States Commission on
International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) delegation met with the
wife of imprisoned political dissident Nguyen Van Dai, Vu Minh Khanh
and the mother of imprisoned political dissident Le Thi Cong Nhan,
Tran Thi Le, at a Hanoi restaurant. Police officials had earlier
objected to the meeting in discussions with the Embassy, but did not
interfere in any way. The family members complained of ongoing
police harassment and obstacles in visiting Dai and Nhan in prison
and in transmitting medication to their family members. On October
23, the USCIRF delegation requested GVN Ministry of Public Security
permission to meet with the prisoners (Reftel). MPS agreed to
facilitate a visit to the jailed human rights lawyers in a detention
facility outside Hanoi. That afternoon, the Vietnamese police
escorted the visiting USCIRF Delegation, accompanied by Embassy
staff, to the Hanoi Temporary Detention Center to meet with the two
prisoners. Dai and Nhan appeared in good health and reported no
physical mistreatment, despite poor food and water. Their cells,
which the delegation visited, were clean but crowded. Neither Dai
nor Nhan regretted their activities in support of human rights in
Vietnam and both expressed appreciation for support from the USG.
At that time, both awaited pending appeal trials. End Summary.


MEETING WITH FAMILY MEMBERS
---------------------------

2. (SBU) During a visit to Vietnam to examine religious freedom
issues, a visiting United States Commission on International
Religious Freedom (USCIRF) delegation asked to meet with relatives
of imprisoned dissidents. Ministry of Public Security officials
expressed their hope that the group would not meet with "sensitive
figures," but did not obstruct Embassy arrangements for a lunch
meeting with Mrs. Vu Minh Khanh (the wife of Nguyen Van Dai) and
Mrs. Tran Thi Le (the mother of Le Thi Cong Nhan). Dai and Nhan
were arrested and tried (in the first instance) for organizing
efforts to build support for political change in Vietnam.

3. (SBU) During the lunch, the USCIRF delegation asked Khanh and Le
about conditions in prison for Dai and Nhan, the status of their
appeal trials at that time, harassment of family members and whether
they considered Dai and Nhan to have been arrested for religious
activities. Khanh told the delegation that her husband had
initially fought for religious freedom in Vietnam but then connected
this fight to the overall human rights situation in Vietnam, which
"as a Protestant, he could no longer ignore." Dai's initial work on
religious freedom involved looking at the registration process and
conditions for Protestant congregations in the Central Highlands,
before he transitioned to human rights and democracy promotion.
Khanh complained of hassles by prison officials in visiting her
husband and their refusal to transmit medicine and a Bible to him;
she had only recently been allowed to transmit liver-related
medication for Dai. Mrs. Le agreed about the harassment both women
faced and mentioned her daughter's untreated eye problems. Le told
USCIRF her daughter was not significantly involved in religious
issues, to the best of her knowledge.

4. (SBU) USCIRF Commissioner Gaer asked about the role of the
Internet, and both women agreed that the Internet had played a major
role in their family members' human rights-related activities before
their arrest. It had also been a significant factor in the
government's prosecution of Dai and Nhan at their joint trial on May
11, 2007 as the prosecution discussed specific documents they had
either downloaded or authored and distributed on the Internet. Both
family members said there had been ongoing police harassment,
surveillance and ostracism from former friends. Khanh said one of
their professional friends was fired from his job because of his
association with Dai. Le reported similar experiences.


VISIT WITH PRISONER NGUYEN VAN DAI
----------------------------------

5. (SBU) On the morning of October 23, during USCIRF's meeting with
MPS (Reftel), the USCIRF team asked for permission to visit Dai and
Nhan in prison. The MPS agreed, and facilitated a visit that
afternoon by a morning meeting with the Vice-Minister of Public
Security (Reftel). The USCIRF delegation and Emboffs visited the
Hanoi Temporary Detention Center in Cau Dien commune outside Hanoi.
There, the delegation held separate thirty minute private meetings
with Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan and visited their prison
cells. Police officials acceded to USCIRF's request that no police
official be in the room during these meetings.

HANOI 00002038 002 OF 003

6. (SBU) Dai, who arrived first, was calm and appeared healthy in
his meeting with the delegation. He said he was "touched" by the
delegation's visit and his overall treatment in prison was
"generally good," as the prison officials "know he is a special
case." His main complaint was being denied access to a Bible to
read, noting his wife had not been allowed to give him one. During
his pre-trial case investigation, he was not allowed to see anybody
for three months. Since his May 2007 trial and conviction, he has
been able to visit monthly with his wife for 30 to 40 minutes,
talking on headphones through a glass window. He told the USCIRF
delegation he did not believe there would be negative repercussions
for him from the delegation's visit.

7. (SBU) Dai said he was confined to a cell of approximately 50
square meters with 30 inmates. He said he was not scared of his
fellow inmates, as "most supported him," and most were only
first-time criminals. Inmates share a common bathroom, and food
consists of only rice and vegetables and a monthly allowance of fish
sauce. He said inmates were given some bottled drinking water but
it was not sufficient so inmates often resorted to using their socks
or shorts to filter the water pumped into a tank in the cell.

8. (SBU) Dai said he believed he was arrested because of training
courses he and Nhan gave on human rights in his law office. He said
that authorities raided his office and home and found pro-democracy
articles that he had either written or posted on the Internet or
that he had downloaded from various websites; these also included
documents on Internet freedom and human rights. He said some
documents he authored also involved religious life in the Central
Highlands, but his religion-related activities were not brought up
at his May 11 one-day trial. He believed his arrest was in part due
to anti-government demonstrations in the United States in response
to the February 2007 arrest of Father Nguyen Van Ly and his (Dai's)
connection to entities in the United States.

9. (SBU) Dai said three formal charges were brought against him: 1)
creating anti-government propaganda; 2) storing anti-government
propaganda; and 3) promulgating anti-government propaganda. Some of
the documents he authored, he said, included a document entitled
"The Right to Form Political Parties" and "Developing a Multi-Party
System Based on the Vietnamese Constitution." He noted that Vietnam
had had a multi-party political system before in its history, and he
had written about this. Dai said he believed another factor in his
arrest was his organization of seminars on press freedom and conduct
of interviews with BBC and VOA. He has been allowed to see a lawyer
upon request since his conviction, and at that time, he was waiting
for his appeal trial date to be set. Under law, he must be notified
at least 15 days before the appeal to allow him time to prepare his
case, he added.

10. (SBU) Dai told the USCIRF delegation he had fought for religious
freedom for the Vietnamese people and believed religion was a factor
in his case, but believed he was arrested mainly due to his human
rights and democracy-related work. He said the authorities never
liked the fact that he had tried to convert colleagues to
Protestantism and did not want him to have a Bible in prison because
they feared he would convert other inmates. He said he had never
been pressured to renounce his faith.

10. (SBU) Dai asked the delegation to tell his wife that he was
well. He said he knew there was international attention regarding
his case, and he asked the delegation to thank the many
international human rights organizations and members of the United
States Congress, specifically noting Congressman Chris Smith's
efforts. The USCIRF delegation passed Dai a Vietnamese-language
Bible on behalf of his family and took photos with him.


VISIT WITH PRISONER LE THI CONG NHAN
------------------------------------

11. (SBU) Ms. Le Thi Cong Nhan, the 28-year old human rights lawyer
and former spokesperson of the Hanoi Bar Association, told the
USCIRF Delegation that she was very surprised by its visit. Nhan
told USCIRF that she is treated as other prisoners are, except that
she is exempt from certain chores as she has sinusitis and
bronchitis. She said she lived in a 50 square meter cell with 30
other inmates. She said the food was cold, as was the shower water.
When asked about abuse, she stated that some prison guards had
initially taunted her as a "counter-revolutionary," but that this
ceased after she complained to higher-level officials. She gets
along with her fellow inmates, although they are of a "low education
level" and "rough." Some of them sometimes curse her as a
"traitor," but she has not been a victim of physical violence.
Since her conviction, she has been able to meet with a lawyer.


HANOI 00002038 003 OF 003


12. (SBU) Nhan said that, prior to the meeting with USCIRF, prison
authorities told her to wear her best dress and to speak well of the
prison. She noted that she insisted on wearing her regular prison
uniform of a T-shirt and pants. She has been able to see her mother
once a month in the same room as visits for death sentence inmates.
She said her mother had to write multiple letters every month in
order to secure permission for her monthly visit, and stated that
this was just a way for the authorities to harass her family.

13. (SBU) Nhan said her political activities were peaceful and just,
and she believes that he sacrifices were worthwhile for the
country's future. She stated that she knew her activism would land
her in prison some day, and that she is proud of herself and her
efforts. When asked what she would have the group tell the Prime
Minister of Vietnam (whom they would be meeting with later that
day), Nhan suggested that they ask whether the Prime Minister
actually considers her a dangerous traitor, and if he would like to
see his children in prison. The USCIRF delegation passed Nhan a
Vietnamese-language Bible on behalf of her family and took photos
with her, before departing.

MICHALAK

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