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Cablegate: Jehovah's Witnesses Seek Official Registration

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

Ref: 03 Hanoi 2153

1. (SBU) Summary: The Jehovah's Witnesses maintain a small
network of unregistered churches across Vietnam. In urban
areas, they have developed working relationships with
authorities that allow them to operate unofficially,
although smaller congregations in rural areas report some
harassment. The Witnesses are seeking official recognition
and have sent several requests to the GVN, but are unlikely
to receive any positive reply in the foreseeable future.
End Summary.

2. (SBU) Two representatives of Jehovah's Witnesses
congregations from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City described a
small but active community in Vietnam in a meeting with
poloff January 12, with congregations of 70-100 members in
Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (five congregations), and Ca Mau,
and smaller congregations in Nam Dinh, Bien Hoa, and Dalat.
Many Witnesses in the south were pre-1975 converts, when the
denomination operated legally, while others converted more
recently through contacts abroad or with relatives in the
Vietnamese diaspora.

3. (U) According to these two Witnesses, most congregations
meet three times per week, and three times per year there
are nationwide "conventions" for discussion and bible study.
The last convention in Ho Chi Minh City had over 700
attendees, while the most recent one in Hanoi had 115, they
said. In both cases, the Witnesses had informed local
police about the conventions and sought permission to rent
space for the gatherings, but proceeded even in the absence
of a formal response.

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4. (SBU) The various congregations try to keep local police
informed of their meetings, and were generally allowed to
continue as they pleased, the two noted. Police once told
the Hanoi congregation that it could not meet without being
officially registered, but it has continued to do so without
any repercussions. The HCMC groups have even better
relations; at least one congregation even sends copies of
The Watchtower (in Vietnamese) to the police. (note: It is
unclear if these are imported from overseas or printed
locally, which in either would probably be considered
illegal. end note) The two reported some harassment of
meetings in Nam Dinh and Binh Hoa, where the Witnesses had
sometimes found it difficult to purchase land. One Witness
had been refused a teaching job and called in to a police
station for questioning five times as a result of her faith,
they claimed.

5. (U) The two representatives said that for the past few
years the Witnesses had attempted officially to register
with the GVN (as noted in reftel). Neither knew exactly
what steps church elders had taken to do this, but said it
involved forwarding correspondence from their parent
organization in Australia to the GVN. Both said they would
actively continue seeking formal recognition and that it was
very important to the Witnesses that they be allowed to
register legally. Teaching the bible is important to their
faith, they explained, and they were unable to do this
effectively without official status, they admitted.

6. (SBU) Comment: Even other Protestant denominations
further along in the registration process like the Baptists
have found the climate less welcoming in recent months,
apparently in part awaiting progress on the long-awaited
Ordinance on Religion. As other Protestants have commented,
views of the Witnesses against military service and giving
blood may also heighten official suspicion, and the
provision of materials from Australia alone could be the
kiss of death to hopes of gaining a formal legal status.
While apparently still expanding, the Witnesses' lack of
legal protections and occasional petty harassment by GVN
officials will continue to limit their growth for the
foreseeable future.

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