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Cablegate: Gvn Launches Investigation Into Catholic Church Protests

VZCZCXRO5919
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHHI #0118 0310940
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 310940Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7098
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 4228
RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN 0041
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS HANOI 000118

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/IRF

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

SUBJECT: GVN LAUNCHES INVESTIGATION INTO CATHOLIC CHURCH PROTESTS

REF: HANOI 097

1. (U) Summary. The Government of Vietnam (GVN) announced that it
is seeking legal action following ongoing Catholic prayer vigils and
protests seeking the return of church lands in downtown Hanoi
confiscated after the communist takeover in 1954 (reftel). The
Church says it intends to take action against government-controlled
media outlets for distorting the truth and attempting to intimidate
peaceful worshippers. As neither side appears to be backing down,
the standoff appears set to continue following the holiday week of
lunar new year. End Summary.

2. (U) Lieutenant-Colonel Nguyen Manh Hung, from the Hanoi police
central Hoan Kiem district investigative unit, signed a decision on
January 26 to launch a criminal investigation into the alleged
crimes of damaging property, causing social disorder and assaulting
public officials. The police launched the investigation following
an incident during a prayer vigil on January 25 after a woman
climbed over the gate into the courtyard and attempted to lay
flowers (reftel). She and a male lawyer claimed to have been beaten
by guards, whereas authorities said the two assaulted public
security personnel. Protestors then scuffled with security guards,
tore down billboards posted on the fence and broke down the gate to
the property.

3. (U) According to Catholic News services, the GVN is conducting
legal investigations of Archbishop Joseph Ngo Kiet and several other
clergymen, accusing them of abuse of power and inciting their
followers to confront the government. Church leaders in Hanoi
believe the investigations are an attempt to intimidate individuals,
following the failure of the government to intimidate Catholics as a
whole. Further, the Hanoi Archbishop's Office stated that it would
render complaints against Hanoi Television and the Hanoi Moi and An
Ninh Thu Do newspapers for running distorted information about the
case.
4. (U) Catholic parishioners have continued to defy the authorities'
demands that they disperse, and have maintained a presence on the
property under rain shelters and tents since the January 25
incident. Tuesday evening, January 29, more than 100 people again
defied authorities, praying and singing hymns on the disputed
property, where they have erected a large white cross and placed
candles and flowers on the building's steps and walls. The crowds
put up rain shelters and lit fires against the winter chill on the
2.5 acre property, which the Hanoi People's Committee has used as a
community center and for parking motorcycles.
5. (SBU) Comment: As the standoff continues, neither side appears
to be willing to blink. The Church looks unlikely to be cowed by
threats, ultimatums, and police investigations. Meanwhile, the GVN
is seemingly struggling for a way to bring the gatherings to an end
without relinquishing the land, losing its grip on authority, or
drawing further international attention and/or condemnation. With
the lunar new year or "Tet" holiday approaching, we expect many of
those gathered will return to their homes and villages to pass the
lunar new year with family, giving both sides a bit of breathing
room. The test for the GVN will come following Tet (the week of
February 11). If the Catholic Church manages to regain its current
momentum, the GVN will be back in the same tight spot. End comment.


MICHALAK

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