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Cablegate: Reported Attempts at Forced Renunciation of Faith

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 000551

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR EAP/BCLTV AND DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KIRF PINS SOCI VM ETMIN HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: Reported attempts at forced renunciation of faith

Ref: Hanoi 0349

1. (SBU) A reliable contact within the Evangelical Church
of Vietnam - North (ECVN) provided Embassy with copies of 13
handwritten letters from Hmong Protestants in the Northwest
Highlands province of Lao Cai, detailing harassment by local
authorities and attempts at forced renunciation of faith.
All letters were apparently written in mid-February; many
indicate that pressures were especially notable in October
and November 2002. The letters uniformly request help from
the UN, the ECVN, and the world protestant council (sic) to
"resolve" their problems. Many letters note that, although
their churches had been recognized by the ECVN, the
government refused to accept this affiliation. Several
letters reported authorities confiscating Bibles, hymnbooks,
and even tables and chairs. (Septel will report on poloff's
February visit to Lao Cai, which unfortunately preceded our
receipt of these reports. When poloff asked about similar
problems other Lao Cai Protestants had earlier reported,
provincial authorities denied the existence of Protestants
in their jurisdiction.)

2. (U) The letters come from individuals in several
villages in four of Lao Cai's nine districts: Bao Thang, Bao
Yen, Van Ban, and Bac Ha. One Protestant from Thai Nien
commune in Bao Thang district claimed a 100-person
"delegation to forbid faith" composed of commune, district,
and provincial officials had arrived in the commune on
October 6, 2002, while another smaller group came on October
10. They told people not to pray and claimed that following
Protestantism was really "following America," since
"America" was spreading this faith to undermine the
Vietnamese Government. They reportedly claimed that Vietnam
"forbids" Protestantism. In another village in the same
commune, a "working delegation" also arrived on October 6
and broke up a prayer meeting. Another delegation came on
October 13 and tried -- unsuccessfully -- to "force" people
to sign statements renouncing Protestantism. In yet another
village in this commune, officials from an "office to
prohibit faith" arrived on October 13, 2002 to forbid
communal prayer, and have come regularly on weekends since
then to make sure no one was praying. They reportedly
threatened that those whose houses are used for communal
prayer might be arrested or kept under house arrest.

3. (U) Protestants in Dien Quan commune of Bao Yen
district wrote that "party and government cadres" had
claimed that anyone who doesn't renounce their faith "must
leave Vietnam" and had claimed that Protestantism was from
the U.S. and so people who refuse to renounce should go to
live there. Officials came on at least two occasions in May
2002 to urge people to renounce their faith, but residents
refused. Residents in a different village in the same
commune wrote that some people were pressured in detention
to sign renunciations but nonetheless maintain their faith.
Officials told them that not only were Protestants
"following America" but were also "reactionaries."

4. (U) Another letter from Son Thuy commune in Van Ban
district reported unsuccessful efforts by local authorities
in November 2002 to forced people to sign renunciations, to
stop communal prayers, and to detain certain believers. In
a different village in this commune, officials from the
"delegation to prohibit faith" tried on October 28 and
November 1 to get people to sign renunciations of faith, but
without success.

5. (U) Protestant Hmongs in Bao Nhai commune of Bac Ha
district reported that authorities had organized meetings
"many times" to stress that Protestantism is an "illegal
religion" that "follows America" and sometimes order
believers to report to the police chief. They noted that
they refuse to go.

6. (SBU) Comment: These reports make clear that at least
some local authorities in ethnic minority areas are
attempting -- usually without great success -- to suppress
the spread of Protestantism, and often incorrectly asserting
that this faith is illegal in Vietnam. Especially worrisome
are the allegations of formal committees or offices set up
for such a campaign, at least in Lao Cai province. As noted
in reftel, however, other Vietnamese Protestant leaders have
denied that there is any widespread campaign to force
renunciation of the Protestant faith. It is also striking
that these letter writers usually indicate that they refused
blandishments -- in some cases, cash offers -- and threats
to induce them to renounce their faith. Virtually all the
letter writers also noted that they only became Protestants
in 1989 or 1990, which underscores the perception on the
part of many Vietnamese officials that Protestantism is
somehow "non-Vietnamese." The frequent references to
"following America" reflect the unfortunate belief by local
officials that attempts by US-based evangelical individuals
or groups to convert ethnic minorities are somehow part of a
US "plot" against Vietnam. While Embassy does not have any
firm evidence of a systematic campaign against Protestants,
even in ethnic areas, these reports are disturbing. Embassy
will continue to raise this issue with local, provincial,
and national officials and urge greater respect for freedom
of religion throughout Vietnam and among all faiths.
BURGHARDT

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