Cablegate: Large Prayer Vigil Near Hanoi Cathedral, Ap Reporter

DE RUEHHI #1086/01 2631012
O 191012Z SEP 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Between 150 and 200 Catholic priests and an
equal number of supporters gathered in prayer outside the former
residence of the Papal Nuncio to protest ongoing destruction of
property claimed by the Church. According to priests, riot police
and construction teams arrived in the early morning of September 19
to carry out a Hanoi Government order to turn the disputed property
into a park/library. An Amcit AP reporter covering the vigil was
hit by police after he began taking photographs and briefly taken
into custody. Embassy officers secured his release and accompanied
him to a local expatriate medical facility. The Embassy strongly
protested the incident. Text of our diplomatic note and draft press
guidance follow in paragraphs 5 and 6. END SUMMARY.


2. (SBU) According to priests associated with the Hanoi
Archdiocese, riot police began arriving at the former residence of
the Papal Nuncio (long the subject of a land dispute between the
Church and the People's Committee of Hanoi) at around 3:00 am
September 19, followed soon after by construction crews and
equipment. By 5:00 am the street in front of the disputed property
had been cordoned off and the fence surrounding the Nunciate torn
down. Arriving at approximately 10:30, Deputy PolCouns saw
bulldozers digging up the yard in front of the former residence; a
backhoe had finished demolishing several smaller structures to the
side of the residence. Priests and others at the site reported that
the authorities were enforcing an edict dated the same day declaring
that the property surrounding the residence would be made into a
park and the building itself turned into a library. The edict came
one day after the Archbishop's office had announced plans to hold a
large prayer vigil to protest the local authorities' failure to
fulfill their promise to return the disputed land.

3. (SBU) Priests from the Archdiocese, which is located immediately
adjacent to the former residence, began to gather shortly after
Morning Prayer, at around 8:00 am. By mid-morning, approximately
150 priests from the Archdiocese and surrounding parishes had
assembled in neat rows in a prayer vigil in the street facing the
property. Priests and lay supporters said that they did not know
how long they would remain. Later in the afternoon, police had
sealed off the dormitories of the priests and nuns located near the
site and were not allowing people to enter or leave, according to a
priest involved in the vigil.


4. (SBU) At approximately 10:45 am, PAS was contacted by the
Associated Press Hanoi bureau chief, an Amcit, who reported that he
had been beaten by plainclothes police and was being taken to a
nearby police station. DPolCouns located the journalist, who was
being led into a local police office near the Hanoi Cathedral.
(Consular arrest report septel.) The journalist had a laceration on
the upper back part of his head, and though the wound itself had
stopped bleeding, there was a considerable amount of blood on his
neck, shirt, and pants. (Note: a video of the journalist being led
away has been posted on "," End note.) After some
discussion, DPolCouns and Conoff received assurances that the
journalist was no longer being held and could leave. After
submitting a written complaint describing the incident, the
journalist was accompanied by Conoff to a local expatriate clinic,
where the journalist, visibly shaken and still very angry, received
four stitches in his head. The journalist refused to sign -- and
Embassy officers declined to accept -- a sanitized version of events
drafted by the investigating officer.


5. (SBU) The DCM -- in the absence of the Ambassador, who is
visiting the Central Highlands -- expressed indignation over the
incident to MFA Americas Director General Nguyen Ba Hung,
emphasizing that it was inexcusable for an American citizen to be
beaten by police. The DCM explained in blunt terms that assaulting
a journalist during the course of his lawful activities was not a
wise course of action and pressed Vietnam to investigate the matter
fully. The Embassy also submitted the following diplomatic note to
protest the event formally.

Begin text:

The Embassy of the United States of America presents its compliments
to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of
Vietnam and has the honor to inform the Ministry of our grave
concern regarding the detainment and physical abuse of an American
journalist by police the morning of September 19. While observing

HANOI 00001086 002 OF 002

the ongoing church protests at Nha Chung street, Associated Press
journalist Ben Stocking was beaten without justification and had his
camera confiscated by the police. As a result of his mistreatment,
Mr. Stocking sustained head injuries and required medical

The Embassy strongly objects to aggressive actions being taken
against any individual - whether American or not - who is observing
or participating in a peaceful gathering. The Embassy requests that
the Government of Vietnam investigate this incident and inform the
Embassy of the appropriate steps it intends to take.

In connection with this incident, the Embassy takes this opportunity
to renew our expression of concern regarding the government's
response to ongoing Catholic Church land protests. The Embassy is
troubled by the government action at the Nha Chung property and the
growing number of arrests of individuals who have participated in
peaceful prayer vigils at the Thai Ha parish. In our interactions
with Government of Vietnam officials, the Embassy has regularly
urged that Committee on Religious Affairs address the long-standing
Church property claims of religious groups in Vietnam. We also urge
the Hanoi People's Committee to engage in a dialogue directly with
Catholic leaders and believers in order to seek a mutually agreeable
resolution to property disputes regarding Church properties
confiscated over the years.

The Embassy of the United States of America in Hanoi avails itself
of this opportunity to renew to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of
the Socialist Republic of Vietnam the assurances of its highest

End text.

6. (SBU) Begin text of draft press guidance:

VIETNAM: Beating and Detention of American Journalist

Q. What is the U.S. Government/ American Embassy response to the
beating and detention of Associated Press Journalist and American
citizen Ben Stocking in Hanoi on September 19?

-- The Associated Press journalist notified the Embassy immediately
after this incident. Embassy officers, including a consular
official, responded quickly to assist with his interaction with the
police and to seek medical attention.

-- We strongly object to any aggressive actions being taken against
any individual, American or otherwise, who is observing or
participating in a peaceful gathering.

-- We have protested the incident to the government and look forward
to hearing what steps have been taken - both in response to this
incident and to ensure that it doesn't happen again.

-- At the request of this individual, we refer further questions to
the Associated Press.

End text.


© Scoop Media

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