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Cablegate: Assemblies of God in Vietnam: Still an "Underground Organization"

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

190545Z Apr 02

2002HOCHI00400 - UNCLASSIFIED

UNCLASSIFIED PTQ0131

PAGE 01 HO CHI 00400 01 OF 02 190630Z
ACTION EAP-00

INFO LOG-00 AID-00 AMAD-00 CIAE-00 DODE-00 SRPP-00 EB-00
UTED-00 H-01 TEDE-00 INR-00 IO-00 L-00 MOFM-05
MOF-01 NSAE-00 NSCE-00 OIC-02 OPIC-01 PRS-00 P-00
SP-00 SS-00 STR-00 TEST-00 TRSE-00 USIE-00 PRM-00
DRL-02 G-00 NFAT-00 SAS-00 /012W
------------------8887C2 190631Z /38
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 6250
INFO AMEMBASSY HANOI
USMISSION GENEVA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000400

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV AND EAP/PD/KFOSTER
DEPARTMENT ALSO FOR DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KIRF VM HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: ASSEMBLIES OF GOD IN VIETNAM: STILL AN "UNDERGROUND ORGANIZATION"

REF: A. HANOI 3601 (1999) B. HANOI 1755 (1999)

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: THE SUPERINTENDENT FOR THE 22,000-STRONG
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 02 HO CHI 00400 01 OF 02 190630Z
FULL GOSPEL ASSEMBLIES OF GOD (AOG) IN VIETNAM SAID HE WOULD
WELCOME GOVERNMENT RECOGNITION OF THE GROUP, BUT EXPECTED IT
TO REMAIN AN "UNDERGROUND ORGANIZATION" FOR YEARS TO COME.
THE GOVERNMENT STILL "REPRESSES" THE AOG, HE CLAIMED, BUT NO
LONGER IMPRISONS AOG BELIEVERS OR PASTORS. END SUMMARY.

"SOPHISTICATED REPRESSION" IN THE NORTH
---------------------------------------
2. (SBU) REVEREND DUONG THANH LAM, GENERAL SUPERINTENDENT
FOR THE FULL GOSPEL ASSEMBLIES OF GOD (AOG) IN VIETNAM MET
WITH POLOFF ON APRIL 15, THE FIRST CONTACT MISSION HAS HAD
WITH THE AOG LEADER. [NOTE: MISSION'S ONLY PREVIOUS CONTACT
WITH THE AOG OCCURRED WHEN POLICE DETAINED REVEREND TRAN
DINH "PAUL" AI IN MID-1999 FOR TAKING PART IN A BIBLE
MEETING IN HANOI. MISSION LATER ASSISTED AI IN OBTAINING A
RELIGIOUS WORKER (R) VISA, WHICH HE AND HIS FAMILY USED TO
TRAVEL TO THE U.S. IN DECEMBER 1999 (SEE REFTELS).]

3. (SBU) LAM SAID HE HAS SERVED AS AOG GENERAL
SUPERINTENDENT SINCE 1997. HE STATED THAT HE HAS ONLY 30
PASTORS (10 OF WHOM ARE ORDAINED, THE OTHER 20 FULLY TRAINED
BUT NOT YET ORDAINED) TO MINISTER TO 22,000 AOG FOLLOWERS IN
VIETNAM. HE SAID THE RELATIVELY SMALL NUMBER OF AOG
FOLLOWERS (COMPARED TO APPROXIMATELY 800,000 PROTESTANT
BELIEVERS NATIONWIDE) WAS DUE TO SEVERE REPRESSION OF THE
AOG AFTER 1975. HE SAID THE CHURCH REORGANIZED ITSELF IN
1989, AND HAS SINCE BEEN GROWING RAPIDLY. MOST OF THE
GROUP'S 225 HOUSE CHURCHES ARE IN HCMC. THE NEXT LARGEST
CONCENTRATION OF AOG WORSHIPPERS IS AMONG THE K'HO AND EDE
ETHNIC MINORITY GROUPS IN LAM DONG AND DAK LAK PROVINCES IN
THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS. SIGNIFICANT NUMBERS OF THAI, H'MONG
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 03 HO CHI 00400 01 OF 02 190630Z
AND OTHER ETHNIC MINORITY PERSONS PARTICIPATE IN AOG HOUSE
CHURCH SERVICES IN THE NORTHERN PROVINCES BORDERING CHINA.

4. (SBU) LAM SAID HIS GROUP FACES ITS SEVEREST PERSECUTION
IN THE NORTHERN PROVINCES. HE SINGLED OUT LAI CHAU AND LANG
SON PROVINCES AS THE MOST REPRESSIVE. IN SOME VILLAGES IN
LAI CHAU, LAM ASSERTED, NON-UNIFORMED SECURITY PERSONNEL
STAY IN CHRISTIAN HOMES TO PREVENT THEM FROM CARRYING OUT
WORSHIP SERVICES. POLICE SUMMON FOR QUESTIONING PERSONS
SUSPECTED OF ORGANIZING HOUSE CHURCH SERVICES ON AN ALMOST
DAILY BASIS. DISTRICT OFFICIALS ALLEGEDLY ORGANIZE MEETINGS
WHERE AOG FOLLOWERS ARE COERCED INTO SIGNING DOCUMENTS
PLEDGING TO ABANDON CHRISTIANITY. LAM MENTIONED THAT THOSE
WHO RENOUNCE THEIR FAITH SOMETIMES DRINK ANIMAL BLOOD, BUT
NOTED THIS IS A COMMON PRACTICE AMONG CERTAIN ETHNIC GROUPS.
THE ACT IN THIS CONTEXT DEMONSTRATES A RETURN TO TRADITIONAL
BELIEFS AND PRACTICES.

5. (SBU) LAM GAVE POLOFF A COPY OF A DOCUMENT PURPORTEDLY
USED FOR RENUNCIATION IN DIEN BIEN PHU IN LAI CHAU PROVINCE.
THE SIGNATORY AGREES TO FIVE CONDITIONS, THE THIRD OF WHICH
TRANSLATES AS FOLLOWS: "WE WILL NOT FOLLOW ANY RELIGION, WE
WILL NOT READ THE BIBLE, WE WILL NOT SING RELIGIOUS SONGS,
AND WE WILL NOT GATHER IN A GROUP TO PRAY WITHOUT THE
PERMISSION OF COMPETENT AUTHORITIES." ACCORDING TO LAM,
SINCE THE COMPETENT AUTHORITIES NEVER GIVE PERMISSION,
SIGNING THE DOCUMENT AMOUNTS TO A RENUNCIATION OF FAITH.

6. (SBU) LAM SAID THAT UNTIL TWO OR THREE YEARS AGO, POLICE
IN THE NORTHERN PROVINCES OFTEN BEAT OR IMPRISONED AOG
PASTORS AND BELIEVERS, BUT RIGHT NOW THERE ARE NO AOG
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 04 HO CHI 00400 01 OF 02 190630Z
PASTORS OR BELIEVERS IMPRISONED. OFFICIALS USE "OTHER MEANS
OF INTIMIDATION." HOUSEHOLDERS WHO REFUSE TO RECANT THEIR
FAITH MAY LOSE THEIR JOBS, OR THEIR CHILDREN MAY BE
FORBIDDEN TO ATTEND SCHOOL. THEY MAY HAVE THEIR PROPERTY
CONFISCATED, OR BE OSTRACIZED IN THEIR OWN VILLAGE. LAM
WORRIED THAT THIS "SOPHISTICATED REPRESSION" WAS MORE
EFFECTIVE THAN PHYSICAL ABUSE OR IMPRISONMENT.

MORE TOLERANCE IN THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS
---------------------------------------
7. (SBU) LAM SAID CONDITIONS FOR ETHNIC MINORITY AOG
BELIEVERS HAVE IMPROVED IN THE LAM DONG AND DAK LAK
PROVINCES IN THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS, SINCE THE ETHNIC UNREST
LAST FEBRUARY. MANY H'MONG FAMILIES FROM LANG SON PROVINCE
IN THE NORTH HAVE MIGRATED TO DAK LAK. LAM ADMITTED
ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY WAS A STRONG MAGNET FOR MIGRATION, BUT
INSISTED GREATER RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE WAS ALSO AN IMPORTANT
REASON FOR MOVING TO THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS. OTHER
PROTESTANT CONTACTS HAVE NOTED THAT H'MONG AND OTHER
NORTHERN ETHNIC MINORITIES, WHO HAVE MIGRATED TO DAK LAK,
LAM DONG AND BINH PHUOC PROVINCES, SAY THEY FACE LESS
RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION THAN THEY DID IN THE NORTH.

8. (SBU) BUT THE AOG ALSO FACES PROBLEMS IN THE FAR SOUTH.
LAM CLAIMED THAT DURING THE FIRST WEEK OF APRIL, TIEN GIANG
PROVINCE IN THE MEKONG DELTA BROADCAST A TELEVISION SPOT
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 02 HO CHI 00400 02 OF 02 190631Z
THAT CALLED THE AOG A "COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY RELIGION OF THE
UNITED STATES," AND CALLED ON PEOPLE TO REPORT AOG MEMBERS
OR ACTIVITIES TO THE AUTHORITIES.

NO LEGAL STATUS ANYTIME SOON
----------------------------
9. (SBU) LAM ASSERTED THAT THE AOG WOULD NEVER REGISTER WITH
THE NEWLY RECOGNIZED SOUTHERN EVANGELICAL CHURCH OF VIETNAM
BECAUSE OF DOCTRINAL DIFFERENCES. HE WOULD WELCOME SEPARATE
LEGAL RECOGNITION, BUT ONLY IF THE GVN ALLOWED THE AOG TO
FUNCTION FREE OF GOVERNMENT CONTROL AND CENSORSHIP. SINCE
THIS IS NOT LIKELY, HE SAID HE EXPECTED THE AOG TO REMAIN AN
"UNDERGROUND ORGANIZATION" FOR YEARS TO COME.

10. (SBU) ALONG WITH OTHER "CHARISMATIC" DENOMINATIONS, THE
AOG ACTIVELY EVANGELIZES IN VIETNAM. THEIR RELATIVELY SMALL
NUMBERS DO NOT REFLECT THE VIGOR WITH WHICH THEY SEEK NEW
CONVERTS, ESPECIALLY AMONG ETHNIC MINORITY GROUPS. THEY ARE
THE FASTEST GROWING SEGMENT WITHIN VIETNAM'S PROTESTANT
COMMUNITY, WHICH MAY ALSO EXPLAIN WHY AUTHORITIES IN VIETNAM
-- WHERE PROSELYTIZING IS ILLEGAL -- ARE WARY AND MONITOR
THEM CLOSELY.

YAMAUCHI

UNCLASSIFIED

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