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Cablegate: Pastors Granted Rare Permission to Visit Political

VZCZCXRO8135
PP RUEHHM
DE RUEHHI #0279 0670919
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 070919Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7371
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 4416
RHEHNSC/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS HANOI 000279

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: PASTORS GRANTED RARE PERMISSION TO VISIT POLITICAL
PRISONERS

REFS: A) HANOI 097; B) 07 HANOI 2038

1. (SBU) Summary: Recent media reports confirmed that a group of
Protestant pastors led by HCMC-based Mennonite pastor and dissident
Nguyen Hong Quang were allowed to visit jailed human rights lawyers
and high-profile political dissidents Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong
Nhan, at their respective prisons on January 31. In Vietnam,
non-family members are very rarely allowed to visit prisoners, but
Pastor Quang obtained permission from Ministry of Public Security
(MPS) officials to visit and baptize Nhan, a longtime student of
Christianity, and to ordain Dai, a longtime practicing Protestant,
as a Christian minister. Mission confirmed with family members of
the prisoners and one of the visiting pastors that the prison visits
went smoothly, although some members of the group reported
questioning by authorities afterwards. End summary.

DISSIDENT MENNONITE PASTOR LEADS CHRISTIAN RIGHTS GROUP
--------------------------------------------- ----------

2. (SBU) In a widely-covered May 2007 Hanoi trial, human rights
activist lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan had been
convicted of "conducting propaganda against the state" and sentenced
to five and four years of prison respectively, later reduced by one
year each under appeal. On January 31, just before the Vietnamese
Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday, a group of Protestant pastors visited
Dai and Nhan, both practicing Christians, at their respective
prisons after being granted permission by GVN authorities.

3. (SBU) After denial of an initial request to see the prisoners,
the group of pastors led by controversial HCMC-based Mennonite
pastor Nguyen Hong Quang (a religious and political dissident,
former prisoner, and member of Bloc 8406, in his own right) traveled
to Hanoi and visited the headquarters of the Ministry of Public
Security (MPS). There, they negotiated permission for a group of 12
Protestant pastors, several of them ethnic minority members, and
seven followers to visit the two lawyers: Dai, in prison in Ha Nam
Province and Nhan, in prison in Thanh Hoa Province.

4. (SBU) According to media reports, Pastor Quan argued with MPS HQ
that "foreigners," referring to the United States Commission on
International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), had already been granted
access to the prisoners (Ref. B). Pastor Quang threatened to join
Catholic prayer vigils in Hanoi protesting property rights (Ref. A),
if not granted access to the prisoners.

5. (SBU) The mother of Le Thi Cong Nhan, Mrs. Tran Thi Le, told us
that only four pastors out of the large group of Christian pastors
and followers were allowed in to see her daughter. After years of
studying Christian doctrine and preparing for baptism before her
arrest, Nhan was officially baptized a Christian by the delegation.
Ms. Le said Dai's wife had also confirmed his ordination by the
pastors as a "minister of Christ."

6. (SBU) POL contacted a member of the group of pastors who visited
Dai and Nhan, who said that the group was greeted "warmly" by the
wardens of each prison, and that the visit, overall, went very
smoothly. However, when the group asked to visit ethnic minority
prisoners they knew of, those requests were denied. In addition,
some members of the group reported that they were questioned by
police after returning to their home provinces.

MICHALAK

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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