Cablegate: Imprisonment of a Hmong Protestant

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. (U) A reliable Vietnamese Protestant source has
provided what appear to be genuine court documents related
to the prosecution and conviction of a Hmong Protestant
named Ma A Chau (also known as Mua A Chau), who had earlier
(reftel) been reported to have been detained in Lai Chau
province on March 5, 2003. A panel of one judge and two lay
assessors on June 18 found Chau guilty of the crime of
"resisting a person carrying out official duties" (Article
257 of the Penal Code) and sentenced him to 36 months
imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 dong (USD 3).

2. (U) The same source also provided a September 2 letter
to the Supreme Procuracy and Supreme People's Court
protesting the injustice of the arrest and conviction; the
writer identifies himself as Ma A Seng, the son of Chau.
(Note: It is not clear if the letter was actually sent,
since this is a handwritten, apparently original version.
End note) He admits an altercation between his father and
police officials, but claims to have witnesses who can
verify that Chau never struck any of the police officials.
He also claims forcefully that the true reason for the
arrest and punishment is the Protestant faith of both father
and son, despite what he insists (accurately, according to
the Vietnamese Constitution) is the right of all citizens to
believe in religion. He claims police had been "following"
his father for three years, trying to find an excuse to
arrest him. He also protests that no family member has been
allowed to visit Chau since his March detention.

3. (U) Comment: This is one of those cases frequently
cited as a clear case of religious persecution, in which the
actual facts are impossible to verify or dispute completely.
That the son and others believe Chau is a victim due to his
faith alone is evident, as well as that he had some sort of
unfortunate encounter with local officials (who claimed in
the court documents to be explaining some new provincial
agricultural policies to villagers). But were the officials
indeed harassing him, and, if so, only because he was a
Protestant? Did he truly resist arrest (whether the arrest
was justified or not) or otherwise impede officials in their
"official business?" What, exactly, was their actual
"official business?" The answers are likely not as simple
as either side would profess. A full explanation would
probably have to include a complex mix of ethnic tensions,
personal animosities, overzealous and/or overbearing
officials, and sense of insecurity by minority Protestants.

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