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Cablegate: Religious Freedom: The View Through the Visa

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

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 000065

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

FOR EAP/BCLTV, DRL/IRF, CA/VO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CVIS PHUM PGOV PREL SOCI KIRF VM HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: THE VIEW THROUGH THE VISA
WINDOW

1. (SBU) Consular associate recently interviewed a Korean
missionary affiliated with the Global Mission Society of the
Presbyterian Church in Korea for a nonimmigrant visa (NIV).
The applicant, who described himself as a missionary pastor
with an "underground" Protestant church, said he conducted
services wherever he could within his geographic area of
responsibility, which included the Central Highlands and the
southern part of Vietnam. While the applicant cited
continued problems in dealing with government authorities --
he described Dak Lak province as a particularly difficult
place to hold services and practice his faith -- he felt it
was easier to conduct his work now than in the past.

2. (SBU) NIV applicant went on to say that he had been an
active missionary in Vietnam for about 10 years. He lived
here with his Korean wife and children, who attended a
"missionary school." (Note: His passport contained a
number of renewed Vietnamese tourist visas, the more recent
of which were multiple entry.) The most difficult years
were 1993-1995, when he and his family were under such tight
surveillance that they considered themselves under de facto
house arrest. In contrast, the ever-growing number of
worshippers throughout the communities he served today made
him feel more comfortable in carrying out his activities.

3. (SBU) NIV applicant came to Conoff's attention when he
applied for a tourist visa to attend the 2003 Centennial
World Mission Conference of Korean Christian immigration in
Honolulu. (Note: 2003 marks the 100th Anniversary of
Korean immigration to the United States. NIV applicant was
trained in Korea but has connections with congregations in
the U.S.) While it is not uncommon for members of the
Protestant faith to apply for NIV's, anecdotal evidence
suggests that most are Baptist. Throughout the interview,
NIV applicant insisted on speaking English. He eventually
became so agitated over the presence of a Vietnamese FSN
assisting with interpretation that the interview was moved
to a private room.

5. (SBU) Comment: Consular associate was able to take
advantage of a nonimmigrant visa interview to gain some
insight into the life of a foreign Protestant missionary
resident in HCMC. This cable does not mean to imply that
one pastor's circumstances have a broad significance for the
religious freedom situation in Vietnam writ large. It does
provide some interesting perspectives on the mixture of
restrictions, harsh pressures and considerable ability to
worship that often seem to characterize the experience of
clergy from unregistered or suspect religious groups. In
this case the pastor was clearly extremely wary of GVN
authorities based on his own experience of hardship. At the
same time, despite his religious activities, he appears to
have been able to stay in Vietnam for a long time with
relative ease, travel widely including in sensitive areas,
and see the numbers of his worshippers increase.

WHITE

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