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Cablegate: Investigating Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh's Allegations Of

VZCZCXRO8206
OO RUEHDT RUEHPB
DE RUEHHM #0651/01 1981205
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O P 161205Z JUL 08
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4654
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 3138
RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 4882

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HO CHI MINH CITY 000651

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

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

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KIRF PREL PGOV VM
SUBJECT: INVESTIGATING PASTOR NGUYEN CONG CHINH'S ALLEGATIONS OF
ABUSE

REF: HANOI 279

HO CHI MIN 00000651 001.2 OF 003


1. (SBU) Summary: Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, a Mennonite Pastor
from Kon Tum province who now lives in Gia Lai province, is the
founder of the Vietnamese People's Evangelical Fellowship
(VPEF), an umbrella organization claiming to represent more than
60 Protestant denominations and all 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam.
VPEF, though religious in name, also has politically-oriented
objectives. Pastor Chinh has repeatedly reported police
harassment, but post has often found these reports to be
inaccurate or misleading, leading us to consider Pastor Chinh a
sometimes unreliable interlocutor. Therefore, we are skeptical
about Pastor Chinh's latest report that he was beaten by the
police on July 12. Pastor Chinh can be prone to exaggerated
claims of abuse, especially insofar as he equates resistance to
his political activities with religious persecution. One
Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV) pastor outright
contradicts Chinh's version of the July 12 events. Pastor
Chinh's unorthodox methods have led some mainstream religious
figures to shun or criticize him, and VPEF's political overtones
have raised concerns within the Government of Vietnam (GVN).
End summary.

RECENT ALLEGATIONS OF POLICE ABUSE
----------------------------------
2. (SBU) Pastor Chinh contacted post on July 13 to report that
Gia Lai provincial police beat him and his adopted son after he
refused to continue attending police interrogations or "working
sessions" on July 8. Upon reporting to the local hospital,
Pastor Chinh said that he was x-rayed, but returned home without
treatment for fear of the numerous police who had followed him
to the hospital. Pastor Y-Bon-Nie from the VPEF made the same
allegations and provided pictures of a bleeding Pastor Chinh.
The email report was also sent to the United Montagnard
Christian Church (Greensboro, NC), the Billy Graham Evangelical
Foundation, the online organization Queme, USCIRF, the White
House, and the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Thus
far, only www .doi-thoai.com and Radio Free Asia have posted the
story to the internet, and only in Vietnamese.

3. (SBU) Post is following-up on these allegations with both the
Office of External Relations in Ho Chi Minh City and our
contacts in the Central Highlands. A usually reliable Southern
Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV) pastor denies Pastor
Chinh's allegation, reporting instead that Pastor Chinh was
involved in a scrap with several young ethnic minority men after
insulting them. He suggested that the police only became
involved to stop the brawl. However, this contact is known to
have a particularly strained relationship with Pastor Chinh and
has been prone to overstating his case against him.

RELIGIOUS AFFILIATIONS
----------------------
4. (SBU) Pastor Chinh is a Mennonite Pastor in Kon Tum Province
and the President of the Vietnamese People's Evangelical
Fellowship (VPEF). Pastor Chinh announced the establishment of
the VPEF on 30 July 2006 in Gia Lai province. He claims the
organization is an umbrella group for more than 60 Protestant
denominations encompassing all 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam.
According to Pastor Chinh, the VPEF carries out "charitable
works" such as transferring money from overseas organizations
and individuals to family members of ethnic minority prisoners.

5. (SBU) In March 2008 post political officer met with a
delegation from VPEF, including Pastor Chinh, Pastor Dinh Thanh
Truong (General Secretary), and Pastor Bui Van Tan (Secretary).
Pastor Chinh claimed that the group has more than 1,000 pastoral
members representing 34 ethnic groups, and boasted of membership
numbers in the hundreds of thousands or millions (Note: other
Post contacts in the Central Highlands have assessed that there
cannot realistically be more than 400 Protestant pastors in
Vietnam. End note.) Pastors Truong and Tan were less bombastic
than Pastor Chinh, focusing instead on VPEF's practical
achievements in terms of education and child support.

POLITICAL ACTIVITIES
--------------------
6. (SBU) Pastor Chinh is signatory to Bloc 8406's Manifesto on
Democracy and Human Rights, as well as a member of Monk Thich
Thien Minh's (member of unsanctioned United Buddhist Church of
Vietnam) "Former Political and Religious Prisoner's
Association." Pastor Chinh also accompanied his close
associate, controversial Mennonite Pastor and political
dissident Nguyen Hong Quang, on a visit to human rights lawyers
and high-profile political dissidents Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi
Cong Nhan in prison in March 2008 (reftel). However, Pastor
Chinh later claimed that Pastor Quang 'denounced him' to the
police.


HO CHI MIN 00000651 002.2 OF 003


7. (SBU) Pastor Chinh reports that he plans to build a "real
civil society" through the establishment of a VPEF Central
Committee and 17 commissions covering a myriad of issues. The
structure he advocates almost exactly parallels that of the
Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF), a Communist Party-affiliated
mass organization charged with carrying out and rallying support
for the Communist Party's social and civic priorities. Any such
rival organization is sure to be understood by GVN authorities
to be an inflammatory and blatantly political act.

QUESTIONS OF CREDIBILITY AND ALLEGATIONS OF ABUSE
--------------------------------------------- ----
8. (SBU) Pastor Chinh regularly reports persecution and/or
harassment by the police to Consulate General HCMC. While some
of these reports appear to be based at least somewhat in truth,
others do not. The following is an illustrative list of reports
from Pastor Chinh over the past four years, and corresponding
follow-up actions by post:

-- (SBU) Pastor Chinh's wife reported in May 2008 that the
pastor had been detained after 60 policemen searched their
house, taking away all written material and Pastor Chinh's
computer equipment. She also alleged that the police had
physically constrained her and slapped her face. Although one
Post source among several we contacted (aside from those
informed directly by Pastor Chinh) was able to confirm this
report, that source suggested an early June date for the raid.
Post's contact reported that the police had searched Pastor
Chinh's house and confiscated many documents relating to the
VPEF and the GVN. In addition, Post's contact alleged that many
of the confiscated VPEF documents (Pastor Chinh's dossier,
certificates for member pastors, and organizational documents
claiming massive membership numbers) were forgeries. Meanwhile,
the GVN denied the assault on the Chinhs ever even occurred,
stating that only a small number of policemen had come to ask
Chinh to report to the police station in order to register his
group.

-- (SBU) On 25 June 2008, Pastor Chinh contacted Post claiming
that he has been required by the police to attend "working
sessions" every day from 0800-1700 for the past 50 days, and has
been completely isolated from his church members. Several Post
contacts confirmed that Pastor Chinh has been called for
questioning each of the past 60 days; however, they lacked
further details.

-- (SBU) In 2006, Chinh reported that a Mennonite Pastor A Shua
was beheaded by the police. However, ConGen discovered that A
Shua was not Protestant but rather Catholic, and he died of
cancer rather than anything connected with the police.

-- (SBU) In Nov 2004, Post received a letter from Pastor Chinh
alleging that seven recruits in Kon Tum had been tortured and
forced to renounce their faith. Post contacts confirmed the
questioning of seven individuals associated with Chinh, though
they were allowed to return home each night, and contacts were
not aware of any police campaign to force renunciations.

-- (SBU) In Oct 2004, Chinh claimed that police in Pleiku
detained four Mennonite pastors and forced their renunciation
after four days of intense pressure. A contact in Pleiku
reported that the pastors were not Mennonites but members of the
officially-recognized SECV, and no police brutality was reported.

-- (SBU) In Oct 2004, based on a Human Rights Watch report
alleging the destruction of Pastor Chinh's unofficial Mennonite
house church/residence, Post confirmed that the church/residence
had in fact been torn down on September 24, 2004.

CONTRADICTORY VIEWS ON CHINH'S ACTIVITIES
-----------------------------------------
9. (SBU) Several Post contacts in the house church community
expressed skepticism about Pastor Chinh's claims of harassment,
suggesting to Post that he often exaggerates his difficulties.
A reliable contact in the GVN-recognized SECV reported that most
Protestant leaders had long ago severed contact with Chinh
because of his "poor moral behavior" and political activism.
One of Post's contacts also harbored serious doubts about
Chinh's credibility, alleging that Chinh is neither a real
pastor nor has ever received any theological training and had
similar doubts about the qualifications of other VPEF members.
He went on to describe the VPEF as a few dozen "rejects" who
grouped together after being rejected by other denominations on
moral grounds. Other Post contacts expressed their displeasure
at Pastor Chinh's modus operandi. His blatant
inter-denominational recruiting is galling to other Protestant
groups. In addition, his overt politicization of the VPEF
creates difficulties with the authorities for apolitical

HO CHI MIN 00000651 003.2 OF 003


denominations.


COMMENT:
--------
10. (SBU) Given the unreliable nature of Pastor Chinh's reports,
we are forced to conclude that Pastor Chinh is likely more
interested in attracting attention to himself than in improving
conditions for religious adherents in Vietnam. Pastor Chinh is
an inflammatory figure in the Central Highlands house church
community and the combination of his sometimes outrageous claims
and his political activities makes him a particularly maddening
figure to more mainstream religious activists. Those pastors
who lead registered churches and work within the present
government framework find Pastor Chinh's antics particularly
disruptive to continuing progress towards religious freedom.
While many of Post's most reliable contacts in the house church
community have denounced Chinh as unreliable and self-absorbed,
their frustrations with his political activities may have
spilled over into ad hominem attacks on Pastor Chinh himself.
That said, Post's own experience shows that Pastor Chinh's
reports are often unreliable and must be thoroughly investigated.

11. (SBU) Pastor Chinh's political grandstanding is undoubtedly
objectionable to the GVN. The VPEF parallel committees to the
VFF will be perceived as a direct challenge to GVN authority and
are likely to incur the same sort of repression experienced by
political activists. In addition, a contact suggested that the
GVN finds Chinh's inflated membership numbers threatening, given
GVN's long-standing preference to understate the size and
influence of the Protestant community.

12. This cable was drafted by HCMC summer intern John Vrolyk
and was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.
FAIRFAX

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