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Cablegate: Some Activists Prevented From Celebrating Death Anniversary

VZCZCXRO9583
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #0452 1191058
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 281058Z APR 08
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4436
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 3044
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 4660

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 000452

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL/AWH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM VM
SUBJECT: SOME ACTIVISTS PREVENTED FROM CELEBRATING DEATH ANNIVERSARY
OF VETERAN DISSIDENT HOANG MINH CHINH

REF: A)HANOI 184 B) 07 HCMC 766

1. (SBU) Summary: In late March, Vietnamese police prevented
democracy and land rights activists from attending a ceremony in
Ho Chi Minh City to commemorate the death of Hanoi-based
dissident and former General Secretary of the outlawed
Democratic Party of Vietnam (DPV), Hoang Minh Chinh. Chinh died
on February 7, and hundreds, including Embassy PolOff, attended
his Hanoi funeral on February 16 (Ref A). The HCMC death
anniversary ceremony, which was organized by the outlawed
Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) monks at the request
of Hoang Minh Chinh's relatives on the 49th day after his death,
went ahead amid heavy police surveillance. UBCV's Venerable
Thich Quang Do, a fierce GVN critic, was able to visit the
ceremony undeterred. End summary.

A COMBINATION RELIGIOUS - POLITICAL EVENT
-----------------------------------------
2. (SBU) Venerable Thich Khong Tanh, a key UBCV member, told
Post that Hoang Minh Chinh's children asked him to arrange the
traditional forty-nine day death ceremony for their father at
his pagoda in HCMC. In the Vietnamese Buddhist tradition,
funerals will be followed with seven-day, forty-nine-day,
one-hundred-day and yearly death anniversaries. Buddhist monks
are often asked by the family to carry out these ceremonies.
While a Buddhist tradition, this ceremony was also clearly
political. Tanh said that the eldest daughter of Chinh, the
late Secretary General of the Democratic Party of Vietnam (DPV),
had invited DPV Deputy Secretary General Tran Khue and Bloc 8406
co-founder Do Nam Hai to the ceremony, scheduled on March 27.
Other contacts said key members of the land rights movement were
invited to the ceremony as well.

SOME PEOPLE STOPPED; SOME NOT
-----------------------------
3. (SBU) On March 27, plainclothes police stopped Do Nam Hai
near his home as he was going to the ceremony. Hai reported to
us that police forcibly took him to the police station for a
"working session" that lasted eight hours. The police also
searched his house and took all of his documents, computer, two
cell phones and a printer while he was at the police station.
Hai said the police did produce a search warrant and showed it
to his relatives before conducting the search. Police also
stopped DPV Deputy Secretary Tran Khue and his wife on their way
to the pagoda, although his children had no problems attending
the ceremony.

4. (SBU) While at least three members of the land rights
movement were also barred from going to the pagoda, our sources
in the UBCV said that Venerable Thich Quang Do was able to
attend the death anniversary ceremony for about fifteen minutes.
It is not clear whether GVN authorities intentionally allowed
the Venerable Thich Quang Do to reach the ceremony or whether he
evaded his minders and "snuck out" of the monastery where he
lives under virtual house arrest. In July 2007, Thich Quang Do
claimed he was able to give his minders the slip when he met
with land rights protesters in front of the National Assembly
Southern office in HCMC (Ref B). Afterwards, Ministry of
Foreign Affairs spokesman Le Dung pointed to his presence at the
protests as proof that Thich Quang Do's movements were not being
restricted by authorities.

5. (SBU) The late Mr. Chinh's daughter confirmed to us that
about twenty relatives of her family participated in the
ceremony. Attendees said police surveillance during the HCMC
ceremony was intense, with up to one hundred plainclothes
policemen outside the pagoda and dozens inside filming the
event. Contacts said land rights activists from the Central
Highlands province of Lam Dong were allowed into the pagoda but
those from Can Tho and Tien Giang were not.

COMMENT
-------
5. (SBU) Hoang Minh Chinh's legacy as a former Communist Party
of Vietnam (CPV) leader and French colonial war hero turned
democracy activist makes events commemorating his death a
natural rallying point for pro-democracy activists. While most
of the leaders of Vietnam's nascent pro-democracy groups are
either in jail, overseas or under virtual house arrest, networks
live on. The UBCV remains as defiant as ever and Internet
activists have recently come to the forefront, including groups
and individuals highlighting issues ranging from anti-China to
corruption in Vietnam. Hoang Minh Chinh's legacy has itself
been the subject of numerous blog posts. End comment.

FAIRFAX

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