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Cablegate: Dissident Hoa Hao Monks Under Heavy Police

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


2002HOCHI00719 - UNCLASSIFIED

UNCLASSIFIED PTQ5109

PAGE 01 HO CHI 00719 01 OF 02 190741Z
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EAP-00 EB-00 UTED-00 H-01 TEDE-00 INR-00 IO-00
LAB-01 L-00 NSAE-00 NSCE-00 OIC-02 OPIC-01 PER-00
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/007W
------------------CD6641 190741Z /38
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 6536
INFO AMEMBASSY HANOI
USMISSION GENEVA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000719

SIPDIS

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

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KIRF VM RELFREE HUMANR
SUBJECT: DISSIDENT HOA HAO MONKS UNDER HEAVY POLICE
SURVEILLANCE

REF: A. HCMC 0695
B. HCMC 1255 (01)
C. HANOI 2924 (01)
D. HCMC 0755 (99)
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 02 HO CHI 00719 01 OF 02 190741Z

1. SUMMARY: PROVINCIAL PLAINCLOTHES POLICE PREVENTED
POLOFF FROM MEETING WITH A DISSIDENT HOA HAO MONK IN AN
GIANG PROVINCE IN THE MEKONG DELTA. POLICE SAT IN ON
POLOFF'S MEETING WITH ANOTHER DISSIDENT MONK IN THE
SAME PROVINCE, BUT FAILED TO INTIMIDATE HIM OR STOP HIM
FROM SPEAKING HIS MIND. END SUMMARY.

THE MAN WHO CLIMBED THE TREE
----------------------------

2. ON JUNE 24, POLOFF ATTEMPTED TO VISIT HOA HAO MONK
NAM LIEM (VO THANH LIEM) AT HIS RESIDENCE IN CHO MOI
DISTRICT, AN GIANG PROVINCE. NAM LIEM HAD GAINED LOCAL
CELEBRITY IN 1994, WHEN HE CLIMBED A TALL PINE TREE IN
HIS BACKYARD TO ESCAPE POLICE WHO HAD COME TO ARREST
HIM. AFTER FOUR DAYS, HE CAME DOWN FROM THE TREE, WAS
ARRESTED, AND SPENT THE NEXT FOUR YEARS IN PRISON.
POLOFF HAD VISITED HIM AFTER HIS RELEASE FROM PRISON IN
1999 (REF D).

3. IN NOVEMBER 2001, LOCAL POLICE CAME TO TEAR DOWN HOA
HAO FLAGS THAT LIEM HAD DISPLAYED INSIDE HIS PRIVATE
PAGODA. WHILE POLICE WERE INSIDE, LIEM LOCKED THE DOOR
FROM THE OUTSIDE. MORE POLICE CAME TO ASSIST, AND LIEM
WENT UP THE TREE AGAIN. UPON HIS DESCENT THIS TIME,
ACCORDING TO HOA HAO SOURCES, THE POLICE GAVE HIM A
STERN LECTURE, BUT DID NOT ARREST HIM. DOZENS OF
LIEM'S PERSONAL FOLLOWERS CONTINUE TO VISIT HIS PRIVATE
PAGODA EACH DAY (REFS B AND C).

UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 03 HO CHI 00719 01 OF 02 190741Z
4. WHEN POLOFF ARRIVED AT THE BRICK ENTRYWAY LEADING TO
NAM LIEM'S PAGODA ON JUNE 24, THREE YOUNG MEN BLOCKED
THE WAY. SEVERAL OTHER MEN WHO APPEARED TO BE WITH
THEM STOOD ON THE LAWN OF A NEIGHBORING TEA SHOP. ONE
OF THE YOUNG MEN WAS HIGHLY AGITATED AND WARNED POLOFF
TO GO AWAY. HE SAID THE PEOPLE IN THE AREA DID NOT
WELCOME AMERICANS AND "DID NOT WANT ANY AMERICANS TO
DISTURB THE MONK AT THE PAGODA." POLOFF SAID HE HAD
VISITED AND HAD BEEN WELCOMED THERE THREE YEARS AGO,
AND FOUND THE PEOPLE OF THE AREA TO BE FRIENDLY.
POLOFF INDICATED HE WOULD TURN BACK, HOWEVER, IF
AUTHORITIES OFFICIALLY HAD PLACED THE LIEM UNDER HOUSE
ARREST OR OFFICIALLY RESTRICTED VISITORS TO THE PAGODA.
THE YOUNG MAN, NOW ANGRY AND USING VULGAR LANGUAGE,
DENIED HE WAS A POLICE OFFICER AND SAID THE MONK WAS
NOT UNDER ANY RESTRICTIONS. HE REPRESENTED THE
COMMUNITY, HE SHOUTED, AND THE COMMUNITY DID NOT WANT
ANY AMERICANS IN THE VICINITY.

5. POLOFF NOTICED MORE PEOPLE APPROACHING AS THE
EXCHANGE CONTINUED. SEVERAL HOA HAO FOLLOWERS
(DISTINCTIVE BY THEIR HAIR BEING TIED BACK IN A BUN AND
THEIR WEARING OF PLAIN BLACK OR GRAY TUNICS) LISTENED
INTENTLY, THEN SOME OF THEM BEGAN ARGUING WITH THE
YOUNG MEN WHO HAD BLOCKED THE ROAD. BECAUSE A PHYSICAL
ALTERCATION APPEARED TO BE IN THE WORKS, POLOFF DECIDED
TO RETURN TO HIS VEHICLE AND DRIVE AWAY. POLOFF DROVE
BY SIX HOURS LATER AND SAW THE SAME GROUP OF YOUNG MEN
LYING IN WAIT.

6. ONE WEEK LATER, A HOA HAO ELDER IN HO CHI MINH CITY
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 04 HO CHI 00719 01 OF 02 190741Z
WENT TO VISIT NAM LIEM. HE LATER TOLD POLOFF THAT LIEM
WAS MORTIFIED AT THE LOCAL POLICE TREATMENT OF POLOFF
AND ASSURED HIM HE WOULD WELCOME VISITS BY POLOFF OR
ANY OTHER AMERICAN DIPLOMAT. THE HOA HAO ELDER ALSO
SAID THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY WAS INFURIATED WHEN THEY
DISCOVERED THE PLAINCLOTHES POLICE HAD SAID AMERICANS
WERE UNWELCOME THERE. RELATIONS BETWEEN THE POLICE AND
THE COMMUNITY WERE NOW VERY TENSE.

COURAGEOUS EX-PRISONER
----------------------

7. AFTER BEING TURNED BACK AT THE HOME OF NAM LIEM,
POLOFF WENT TO TRY TO VISIT ANOTHER DISSIDENT HOA HAO
MONK, TU TRIET (LE MINH TRIET). IN OCTOBER 1993,
AUTHORITIES IN AN GIANG PROVINCE'S CHO MOI DISTRICT HAD
ORDERED TU TRIET TO DEMOLISH HIS HOME BECAUSE HE HAD
BUILT IT IN A PAGODA STYLE WITHOUT GOVERNMENT
PERMISSION. HE REFUSED, BUT THEY DEMOLISHED THE HOUSE
AND CAME TO ARREST HIM. AS A FUGITIVE, HE WROTE TO THE
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA AND TO THE OVERSEAS HOA HAO
COMMUNITY SEEKING ASSISTANCE. FINALLY ARRESTED IN
MARCH 1994, HE WAS CHARGED AND FOUND GUILTY OF
"CONTEMPT FOR THE LAW" AND OF "COOPERATING WITH FOREIGN

UNCLASSIFIED

UNCLASSIFIED PTQ5110

PAGE 01 HO CHI 00719 02 OF 02 190741Z
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INFO LOG-00 AID-00 AMAD-00 CIAE-00 DODE-00 SRPP-00 DS-00
EAP-00 EB-00 UTED-00 H-01 TEDE-00 INR-00 IO-00
LAB-01 L-00 NSAE-00 NSCE-00 OIC-02 OPIC-01 PER-00
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/007W
------------------CD664C 190742Z /38
R 190629Z JUL 02
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 6537
INFO AMEMBASSY HANOI
USMISSION GENEVA

UNCLAS SECTION 02 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000719

SIPDIS

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

AGENTS WITH THE PURPOSE OF HARMING THE NATIONAL
INTEREST." HE WAS SENTENCED TO EIGHT YEARS
IMPRISONMENT; HE COMPLETED HIS TERM AND WAS RELEASED AT
THE END OF MARCH 2002.
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 02 HO CHI 00719 02 OF 02 190741Z

8. POLOFF HAD DIRECTIONS TO TU TRIET'S BROTHER'S HOME
WHERE TRIET CURRENTLY RESIDES, BUT HAD TO ASK FOR
SPECIFICS AFTER ARRIVING IN THE GENERAL VICINITY.
RECEIVING CONTRADICTORY DIRECTIONS FROM DIFFERENT
PERSONS IS NOT UNUSUAL IN RURAL VIETNAM. HOWEVER, WITH
FOUR PLAINCLOTHES POLICE FOLLOWING CLOSELY ON
MOTORCYCLES, POLOFF WAS CONVINCED THAT NEIGHBORS HAD
BEEN INSTRUCTED TO GIVE THE WRONG DIRECTIONS. POLOFF
HAD ALMOST GIVEN UP WHEN HE NOTICED ONE POLICEMAN WHO
HAD BEEN FOLLOWING HIM SITTING ON A PORCH NEXT TO A MAN
CLAD IN WHITE. THE MAN IN WHITE WAS TRIET.

9. TU TRIET SMILED BROADLY AS POLOFF SAT DOWN. THREE
PLAINCLOTHES POLICEMEN SAT DOWN WITH THEM. THEY
LISTENED, BUT DID NOT INTERFERE IN THE CONVERSATION.
TRIET RECOUNTED THE STORY OF HOW AND WHY HE HAD BEEN
ARRESTED. HE SAID HE HAD BEEN ALLOWED VISITORS WHILE
IN PRISON AND HAD BEEN TREATED NO WORSE THAN THE OTHER
PRISONERS. HE IS CURRENTLY UNDER A TWO-YEAR
ADMINISTRATIVE DETENTION AND IS NOT ALLOWED TO LEAVE
THE VILLAGE WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM THE LOCAL POLICE.

10. TU TRIET SAID THAT AFTER EIGHT YEARS OF PRISON, THE
THING THAT MOST SURPRISED HIM WAS THE DEGREE OF FREEDOM
OF WORSHIP ENJOYED BY HOA HAO BELIEVERS. (REF A
DESCRIBES IMPROVEMENTS FOR HOA HAO FREEDOM OF WORSHIP
SINCE THE GVN RECOGNIZED THE SECT IN 1999.) TRIET SAID
HE HOPED TO SEE CONTINUED IMPROVEMENTS, BUT GLANCING AT
THE POLICEMAN WHO SAT AT ARM'S LENGTH AWAY, HE SAID HE
WAS NOT OPTIMISTIC.
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 03 HO CHI 00719 02 OF 02 190741Z

11. TRIET SAID HE OPPOSED THE GVN-SANCTIONED HOA HAO
REPRESENTATIVE COMMITTEE BECAUSE HE BELIEVED ITS
OFFICERS WERE SELECTED IN A SHAM ELECTION AT A HOA HAO
CONGRESS THAT WAS DOMINATED BY THE GOVERNMENT. NOTING
HIS OWN PAGODA HAD BEEN DESTROYED IN 1994, HE DOUBTED
HE WOULD RECEIVE PERMISSION TO REBUILD. POLOFF HAD
JUST VISITED A NEWLY-CONSTRUCTED HOA HAO PAGODA (REF A)
AND SUGGESTED TRIET MIGHT TRY MEETING WITH THE
REPRESENTATIVE COMMITTEE, EXPLAIN HIS CASE, AND SEE IF
THEY WOULD SUPPORT HIS BUILDING A NEW PAGODA. TRIET
LAUGHED AT FIRST, THEN SEEMED INTRIGUED BY THE IDEA.

12. ASKED IF THERE WAS A MESSAGE TO CONVEY TO THE USG,
TRIET REPLIED THAT HE GREATLY APPRECIATED U.S. EFFORTS
ON HIS BEHALF AND "FOR ALL PERSONS WHO HAVE SUFFERED
ILL-TREATMENT AT THE HANDS OF THE GVN." HE SAID THE
U.S. WAS A MODEL OF FREEDOM AND THAT THE VIETNAMESE
WOULD DO WELL TO LOOK AT AMERICA AS AN EXAMPLE OF THE
POTENTIAL OF A FREE SOCIETY. (COMMENT: POLOFF FELT
THAT TU TRIET'S REMARKS -- IN FRONT OF THREE SULLEN
POLICEMEN -- WERE THEMSELVES A MODEL OF BRAVERY IN THE
FACE OF REPRESSION.)

MESSAGE TO THE POLICE
---------------------

13. POLOFF ALSO HAD A MESSAGE TO DELIVER, REPEATED
TWICE DURING THE CONVERSATION. POLOFF TOLD TRIET HE
WAS GLAD "OTHERS" PRESENT WERE LISTENING. NOW THEY
WOULD KNOW THIS WAS NOT A DANGEROUS/SUBVERSIVE
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 04 HO CHI 00719 02 OF 02 190741Z
CONVERSATION. POLOFF WOULD REPORT ON HIS MEETING WITH
TRIET AND ON THE IMPROVEMENTS SEEN OVER THE YEARS IN
THE HOA HAO SITUATION. HE WOULD ALSO REPORT THAT
POLICE HAD PREVENTED HIM FROM MEETING WITH DISSIDENT
HOA HAO MONK NAM LIEM. THERE WAS NOTHING LIEM COULD
HAVE SAID THAT WOULD MAKE THE GVN LOOK WORSE THAN THE
POLICE THUGS PHYSICALLY BLOCKING THE ROAD TO HIS HOUSE.
POLOFF SAID HE WAS WORRIED THAT ANY INCREMENTAL
IMPROVEMENTS THE GVN WAS MAKING IN RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
WOULD BE OVERSHADOWED BY ITS CONTINUED HARASSMENT OF
PERSONS WITH DIFFERING VIEWS. YAMAUCHI

UNCLASSIFIED

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