Cablegate: Letters From Hoa Hao Dissident
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 HO CHI MINH CITY 000315
DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, DRL/IRF, INR/B
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI PREL PGOV KIRF VM HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: LETTERS FROM HOA HAO DISSIDENT
REF: HCMC 0252
1. (SBU) Summary. Leading HCMC-based Hoa Hao "dissident" Tran Huu
Duyen recently provided Post with two letters detailing his views
on the status of religious freedom and the Hoa Hao. One letter
was addressed to the Consulate General and one to Congress.
While few of his points are new, they provide a reminder that
there remains deep disatisfaction in some Hoa Hao quarters with
the current status quo. End Summary.
2. (SBU) In an English-language petition dated January 13, 2004,
and given to Poloff in late February during preparations for a
reporting trip to the Hoa Hao Holy Land in An Giang Province,
Duyen detailed his version of Hoa Hao complaints from 1975 to
present, including the treatment of Mr. Nguyen Van Lia (reftel).
In the letter, he asks the USG to press the GVN in six specific
areas. The complete text of the six points follows:
-- Allow Hoa Hao Buddhists to exercise their freedom of religion
and participate in independent religious activities.
-- Allow Hoa Hao Buddhists to organize a General Election of the
Central Council of Administrators and all other levels of the Hao
Hao Buddhist Church. The election of all administrative officials
should be free and fair, with the participation of all Hoa Hao
Buddhists, instead of the current system of appointment by the
-- Allow the re-establishment of the Board of Directors of the
-- Allow the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church to reprint all publications
and teachings in their original forms; allow the use and display
of the Hoa Hao Buddhist flag at all religious functions and church
-- Return all confiscated prosperities of the Hoa Hao Buddhist
-- Release all Hoa Hao Buddhist prisoners who have been wrongfully
convicted and/or imprisoned.
3. (SBU) In early March, Duyen forwarded to the ConGen by email a
"Heart Letter from Mr. Tran Huu Duyen to U.S. Representatives and
Senators sent via U.S. ConGen HCMC." The letter (in Vietnamese)
thanks the USG and other foreign groups for pressuring the GVN on
religious freedom issues, and describes his views on the current
religious freedom and human rights situation in Vietnam. Included
in the letter is a proposal for USG assistance to help revive a
pre-1975 human rights organization of which he was a member.
According to Duyen, the former Saigon government permitted the
establishment of the Vietnam Human Rights and Civil Rights
Protection Association in 1964. Several members were arrested
after 1975. The letter goes on to say that Duyen would like the
Consulate to forward this letter to the U.S. Congress so that the
USG can create "favorable conditions" for this Association to
operate again. Duyen further expressed hope that a resurrected
Vietnam Human Rights and Civil Rights Protection Association could
work with the current Government of Vietnam to find an "emergency
escape route" toward "real democracy and fairness," so that a
healthy Vietnam can be integrated into world economic, political
and cultural life. According to his letter, this would be the
start of a "national mediation and conciliation process."
4. (SBU) Due to their history of armed rebellion, the Hoa Hao have
always been watched closely by whatever government happens to be
in power. Duyen himself has spent nearly half of his 80-plus
years in prison. He was arrested several times by the French
before 1954, three times by the South Vietnamese, including for
his alleged role in an attempted coup against President Ngo Dinh
Diem in 1960, and another three times by the GVN. He was arrested
most recently in 1991, and released in 1998 as part of a general
amnesty. Duyen was a contemporary of Hoa Hao founder Huynh Phu
So, and appears to command great respect and influence within the
Hoa Hoa community, both in Vietnam and overseas.
5. (SBU) The Hoa Hao have been greatly factionalized since the
founder's death in 1947, and Duyen has always claimed to operate
as something of an honest broker between rival factions. (Post
Note: Depending on the source estimates of the number of Hoa Hao
followers ranges from 1.2 million to 3 million.) Duyen has also
generally maintained that the privatistic nature of Hoa Hao
worship really obviates the need for any sort of formal religious
association. He is proud of his contacts with other political and
religious activists, including outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of
Vietnam deputy Thich Quang Do (they were released from detention
on the same day and transported in the same vehicle), Cao Dai
priest Le Quang Tan, and democracy advocate Dr. Nguyen Dan Que.
Duyen has recently moved to a small apartment on the outskirts of
HCMC, which is an improvement over the run-down apartment he had
occupied since the family home was confiscated by the GVN in 1975.
His son, formerly a U.S.-trained officer in the South Vietnamese
Navy, works as a cyclo driver.
6. (U) Post will forward an unofficial translation of the letter
to the Desk via separate e-mail.