Cablegate: Hcmc Pastors: Christmas Celebrated Without

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





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: Despite a stream of reports from U.S.
sources proclaiming a new "crackdown" on Protestant
worshippers in the Central Highlands and elsewhere in
Vietnam over the Christmas holidays, conversations with well-
connected pastors in HCMC over the past weeks revealed
surprisingly few allegations of even harassment by the
government. Instead, the pastors talked of growing numbers
of worshippers, new churches, and expansion of religious
training programs both here and abroad. End summary.

2. (SBU) During a dinner with several local religious
leaders from various Protestant denominations, none of these
pastors polled by Poloff was aware of any specific instances
of arrests, beatings, or interference with worship services
over the holidays. All said they were able to celebrate the
holidays with their own congregations without incident, and
believed that others outside of HCMC had done so as well.
They spoke of hundreds of religious leaders currently
undergoing training here and overseas.

3. (SBU) One ethnic minority congregation leader did
complain of police searching his home and questioning him
just that morning. However, he believed the incident to be
connected with a November trip to Tien Giang province, when
he was intercepted outside a "church" and detained briefly,
before being told to return to HCMC. The authorities then
disbanded the assembled worshippers and confiscated a
variety of religious and secular items.

4. (SBU) In a separate, unrelated meeting, three Mennonite
pastors responded that they had not heard of any specific
examples of interference with Christmas services, but said
they might still receive additional information from the
provinces. The pastors promised to arrange for direct
meetings with sources from the Central Highlands in the
future, rather than act as middlemen. The pastors said the
Mennonites had recently sent religious workers to Gia Lai
and Dak Lak provinces to try to "rally" hundreds of house
churches that had "become scattered" over the past five
months. Ethnic minority religious leaders, however, "seemed
scared." Because this five-month time period would coincide
with reports of arrests in the Central Highlands during
August-September 2002, Poloff pressed for details. The
pastors, however, described the general climate of
harassment faced by all unregistered house churches.

5. (SBU) The Mennonite pastors did provide Post with news
of the December 27 arrest of a missionary near HCMC, but no
details on why he was arrested. Photographs show dozens of
people gathered around a police vehicle as uniformed
officers take the missionary into custody. Later
photographs purport to show the missionary after he was
returned from custody beaten and unconscious. The photos
depict him lying on the floor, with one of the pastors
standing over him with a clearly marked first aid kit. The
missionary has since recovered, according to the pastor.
(Post note: To the untrained eye at least, the police in the
photos do not appear to be using excessive force. Poloff
will try to follow up with the missionary directly.)

6. (SBU) One of the pastors also provided photographic
evidence of a police search of his home in December. These
photographs show uniformed police officers asking questions
and taking notes. The pastor believes this incident might
have been related to his failed attempt to register as the
legal representative for three relatives of Father Ly, who
were detained in June 2001. (Post note: Father Ly, who was
sentenced to a total of 15 years imprisonment for "damaging
national unity" in October 2001, remains a controversial
figure even within the Catholic Church here.) The same
pastor also mentioned that he was working toward opening a
training center on law and human rights.

7. (SBU) According to the three Mennonite pastors, the GVN
continues to "watch and prohibit." They claimed that two
other pastors who had returned from training in Thailand
late last year were apprehended by police and injected with
poison. The two had subsequently "lost their memories" and
are currently under the care of their followers, being no
longer able to fulfill their pastoral duties. (Post note:
Post will attempt to verify this story, as the pastors
acknowledged they were giving Poloff a second/third-hand
account.) In an aside, the pastors said that "local
governments" in the Central Highlands had "opposed and
threatened" Deputy Prime Minister Dung during a recent visit

8. (SBU) The pastors had no statistics for what they
proudly described as a steadily growing number of
worshippers, but said there are 1500 Mennonite house
churches throughout the country. The pastors are also
attempting to revive a Christian Boy Scout program in
Vietnam. This program would be independent of any umbrella
organization, and, presumably, unrecognized here. The
pastors are close to naming 12 troop leaders, including five
who had served in that capacity before the organization was
disbanded in 1975. They cited great interest among members
of the Christian community.
9. (SBU) Comment: Post accepts that much of this
information is anecdotal. The fact that some have been able
to worship peacefully does not mean all enjoy the same
opportunity, which is why we do not generalize about
religious practice in the Central Highlands. Still, it is
noteworthy that none of these religious leaders (who have
been consistent sources of information critical of GVN human
rights violations in the past) complained of government
repression over the holidays. This does not preclude the
possibility that additional information may surface later,
but offers a counterpoint to some of the more inflammatory
charges generated by other sources.


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