Cablegate: Gvn Updates On Situation for Religious Believers

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: A: 03 Hanoi 2546 B: 03 Hanoi 2897
- C: Hanoi 155 D: HCMC 147
- E. Hanoi 608

1. (SBU) Summary: During recent meetings in Hanoi with
DRL/IRF's Dr. Will Inboden, Government of Vietnam (GVN)
officials reiterated firmly that religious freedom already
exists in Vietnam, but also noted progress on a new
ordinance for religion, as well as new training classes on
religion for local officials in the Central Highlands.
Officials confirmed that there were no releases during the
Tet prisoner amnesties from among the cases the USG has
highlighted. A Catholic church leader pointed to some
progress on the number of seminarians. Septel will report on
discussions with Protestant representatives. End Summary.

2. (U) In separate February 27 meetings with visiting
DRL/IRF senior adviser William Inboden and poloff, Pham Binh
Minh (Director of the International Organizations Department
of Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Tran Dinh Phung (Member of
the Standing Committee of the Vietnam Fatherland Front -
VFF), and Ngo Yen Thi (Chairman of the Government Committee
on Religious Affairs - CRA) all reiterated that Vietnam
respects freedom of religion, as guaranteed in the
Constitution. The total number of religious believers is
high and growing, said Minh and Phung. The huge crowds
celebrating Christmas show how Christianity is not oppressed
here, assured Phung. The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV)
also reaffirmed freedom of worship in a document from its
8th plenum in January 2003, and religious discrimination is
strictly prohibited, Thi noted. However, "bad elements"
have manipulated the issue of religion in the Central
Highlands to advance the cause of a Dega state, warned Phung
and Thi.

3. (U) VFF's Phung reported that the VFF continued to draw
comments from a number of religious groups on a proposed new
ordinance on religion (ref a), as well as studying similar
ordinances in different countries. He assured that the
final ordinance "will be in conformance with international
law," and welcomed USG comments, while declining to provide
the current version of the ordinance.

4. (U) The CRA's Thi promised that the draft ordinance on
religion would allow more freedom of action for religious
groups, although they will still have to "consult" with the
GVN. He discounted charges of religious oppression leveled
at Vietnam, saying that many of the minority Protestants
supposedly arrested for their faith were simply "common
criminals." He insisted that allegations of "hundreds" of
church closing were "exaggerated," and that most of the
places were small chapels in flimsy buildings
"inappropriate" for worship services. He noted, however,
that the CRA is conducting training classes for local
officials in the Central Highlands focused on teaching how
to "help believers with the normal practice of faith," and
educating that "Protestantism is not a misleading belief."

5. (U) Nguyen Hung Linh, Assistant to Deputy Minister of
Public Security Nguyen Van Huong, noted Huong's positive
meetings in October 2003 with Ambassador for International
Religious Freedom Hanford (ref b) and in January 2004 with
Senator Brownback (ref c). Linh commented that the
"productive results" of these meetings must not have been
reported back to Washington, as criticisms continue.
Concerning the list of 85 religious prisoners presented by
Hanford (a similar version of which Senator Brownback had
also presented), Linh said that the MPS had reviewed the
list and concluded that individuals in 13 cases appeared not
to exist, that 29 individuals had been already freed, and 43
others remained incarcerated. He confirmed that none on the
lists had benefited from prisoner amnesties at Tet (January
2004) but promised more specific information on the cases
"very soon." On the request for the GVN to issue a decree
banning forced renunciations of faith, Linh claimed that
such a decree was "not necessary," as the GVN had never
ordered local authorities to force Protestants to renounce
their faith, and as the Constitution guarantees religious
freedom. Regarding Vang Seo Giao, a Protestant allegedly
beaten to death in the Northwest Highlands province of Ha
Giang, Linh repeated GVN assertions that Giao had actually
died after falling into a stream he was trying to cross
while drunk. In the case of Vang Thi My, a Northwest
Highlands Protestant allegedly raped by officials, Linh said
that when the MPS investigated the reports, My confirmed
that the claims were not true. Regarding the re-opening and
registration of churches in the Central Highlands, Linh
noted that the CRA's recent decree (ref d) served as the
GVN's response. Ling repeated Deputy Minister Huong's
earlier promise that Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do of
the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam would not be "put in
detention," but asserted that they had nonetheless committed
"crimes." While they remained under investigation, they
would not be permitted to move freely or receive visitors,
he admitted.

6. (SBU) In a separate meeting, Bishop Ngo Quang Kiet
(concurrently Apostolic Administrator of Hanoi) expressed
frustration about the continuing shortage of trained priests
to minister to the large number of Catholic faithful in
Vietnam. Bishop Kiet noted that the GVN was now allowing
larger classes of 50 to 70 students in seminaries, but
asserted that the Church wanted 90 students per class, as
well as the right to open new seminaries in Hanoi and Ho Chi
Minh City. He acknowledged that the number of priests in
the Hanoi diocese was increasing, with 12 new priests
ordained in 2003, up from 9 in previous years. He admitted
that the GVN had become less restrictive in approving
students proposed as seminarians, and was allowing "older"
seminarians to be ordained after a special two year course
in Nha Trang. (Note: These are mostly Catholics who have
been serving as de facto priests for several years, but have
never been recognized by the government. See ref e. End

7. (SBU) Bishop Kiet noted that the Church had received
letters from imprisoned priest Nguyen Van Ly, reflecting
"positive changes" in his political positions. He said that
in the past Father Ly had focused on political issues, not
just his religious calling, and this had been the root of
his "problems." Bishop Kiet also commented that the Church
now had more latitude to conduct charitable activities,
running kindergartens and some healthcare clinics. He
admitted that church leaders found it easier to carry out
such activities in southern provinces than in the North.
Looking ahead to the pending ordinance on religion, Bishop
Kiet said that Church leaders had not "officially" provided
comments but had unofficially discussed it several times
with members of the National Assembly and the VFF.

8. (SBU) Comment: With the exception of the CRA's directive
on church registrations, the GVN offered a generally
negative response to all of the deliverables that Ambassador
Hanford had presented in October. These meetings did not
break any new ground on religious issues, but as they were
the fourth set of official visits on religion in just over
five months, expectations should be kept in perspective. It
is positive to hear of such a deliberate GVN effort to bring
in a wide range of views in drafting the ordinance on
religion, but these opinions may not make it into the final

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