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Cablegate: Uscirf in Hcmc: Meeting the Secv

VZCZCXRO1493
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #1232/01 3480338
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 140338Z DEC 07
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3440
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 2360
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 3659

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 001232

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

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

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KIRF VM
SUBJECT: USCIRF IN HCMC: MEETING THE SECV


HO CHI MIN 00001232 001.2 OF 002


Summary
-------
1. (SBU) USCIRF Commissioners Cromartie, Bansal, Argue, Gaer and
Eid and staffers Dettoni and Flipse met with the Southern
Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV) leaders Pastor Ngo Van Buu
(Vice President), Pastor Phan Quang Thieu (Senior Pastor) and
Pastor Nguyen Vinh Cu (Treasurer General) on October 25. Pastor
Buu told USCIRF delegation that since the law on religion was
passed in Vietnam, the SECV has "freedom with limitations" and
noted nationwide implementation of the ordinance has been uneven
in their experience. The SECV steered clear of controversy in
answering the Commission's questions on political issues, and
shared few specifics on reports of alleged violence against SECV
pastors and followers. End summary.

SECV Reports Freedom With Limits
--------------------------------
2. (SBU) As with all denominations, SECV ordination and
transfers of pastors requires prior GVN approval, which is not
always granted. The SECV has had more success with training
pastors in recent years, with several seminary courses taking
place in HCMC and the provinces. However, the long training dry
spell before 2004 means it will take time to train enough
pastors to lead their burgeoning congregations. In the
provinces, Pastor Buu said that conditions have improved for
their congregations in the Central Highlands, especially in Gia
Lai, where the SECV President recently attend a church opening
and the ordination of a new pastor. In Dak Lak, Pastor Buu said
things were "more difficult." When USCIRF asked whether the GVN
requests names of believers for SECV congregations and whether
those followers are then harassed by local authorities, Pastor
Thieu said the GVN does conduct checks to verify whether names
on SECV's lists are really SECV followers, but did not cite any
specific incidents of harassment. On the issue of confiscated
property, the SECV said the Prime Minister has yet to fulfill
the "empty promises" he made regarding the SECV's petition to
resolve the status of 265 closed churches.

Politics Vs. Religion
---------------------
3. (SBU) Commissioner Bansal said during meetings with GVN
authorities in Hanoi, the delegation had been told there is a
line between religious and political activities which religious
groups should not cross. She asked how the SECV interpreted
this distinction and whether it limited their activities.
Pastor Thieu said it was often hard to separate religious from
political activities in Vietnam, but that as a religious
organization working here, they must follow rules. Pastor Thieu
added that some of the limitations imposed by the GVN result
from "misunderstandings" born of prejudice against
Protestantism's "foreign origins" and an inherent suspicion
regarding the work of foreign missionaries.

Reports Unconfirmed
-------------------
4. (SBU) Commissioner Gaer asked if the pastors could confirm
reports about a young SECV follower who had allegedly been
beaten to death in Phu Yen province. Pastor Cu said he had
heard about the incident, but he did not have any details.
Pastor Cu said he had heard about the beating of a pastor in Tra
Vinh province in January, but as his assailants were not in
uniform, they didn't know if they were GVN police or private
citizens. Pastor Ngo said local authorities thought the
assailants might be anti-Christian Khmer Buddhists, who are the
majority ethnic group in Tra Vinh.

5. (SBU) Post has since met with the SECV pastor from Tra Vinh,
who affirmed he and several of his followers were beaten by
Khmer residents in January and again on November 15. Post has
not been able to confirm local authorities' role in the
incidents, but notes that stories of vigilante-style violence
meted out against individuals are commonly reported in the press
and are not unique to religious organizations or leaders. The
SECV has asked Tra Vinh provincial authorities to investigate
the incident and provide a report of their findings before they
meet with the Hanoi Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA) on
December 12. Post will report developments septel.

Comment
-------
5. (SBU) USCIRF delegates repeatedly asked for specific examples
of limitations, harassment and pressure facing SECV
congregations, as well as several questions soliciting opinions
on whether the SECV views their religious activities as being
inherently political. The SECV's replies were often general and
vague, perhaps reflecting their focus on spiritual issues but
more likely revealing their general reluctance to discuss
SECV-GVN relations in great detail. Meetings with other
provincial SECV leaders reported septel. End comment.

HO CHI MIN 00001232 002.2 OF 002

6. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.
FAIRFAX

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