Cablegate: Reports of House Church Closings, Beatings, And
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 000343
DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, DRL/IRF
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI PREL PGOV KIRF VM ETMIN HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: REPORTS OF HOUSE CHURCH CLOSINGS, BEATINGS, AND
PROTESTANT HARRASSMENT IN KON TUM AND QUANG NGAI PROVINCES
REF: A) 03 HCMC 0450 B) 03 HCMC 0833
1. (SBU) Summary: Three new Protestant contacts, introduced by a
trusted HCMC-based source, shared information on several recent
incidents in Kon Tum and Quang Ngai provinces with Poloff in two
meetings in HCMC on March 31. At the first meeting, two lay
pastors provided firsthand accounts of house church closings and
beatings in Kon Tum. Later that evening, an ethnic minority
pastor from Quang Ngai gave Poloff secondhand reports of the more
generalized harassment faced by his followers. End Summary.
2. (SBU) Protestant lay pastor Nguyen Khac Xuan (protect), an
ethnic majority Kinh Vietnamese, told Poloff that he was attacked
on March 24, 2004 at 8:40 p.m., while returning home on his
motorbike after a prayer meeting at his Dak Kum house church in
Kon Tum City. As he neared his home, a man wearing a mask blinded
him with a flashlight, and then attacked him with a stick, beating
him on both arms and one leg. Another man tried to attack Mr.
Xuan's wife, who began screaming loudly. Mr. Xuan fled the scene
and managed to evade his attackers. He reported the attack to the
local police, who told him the attackers were probably just trying
to steal his motorbike. Even one week after the alleged attack,
Poloff was able to observe noticeable bruise marks and fresh scabs
on both arms and his right leg.
3. (SBU) Mr. Xuan also reported that on March 14, 2004, local
police interrupted services at his Dien Binh house church in Dak
To District, Kon Tum. One week earlier, Mr. Xuan had baptized 14
new converts at the church. The police seized their Bibles and
other worship materials, and made a record of all the items taken.
The police then brought Mr. Xuan, his wife, and the house's owner
to the district police station, and informed them that Protestants
were not recognized in Kon Tum. On March 19, police again
summoned Mr. Xuan to the district police station. A Major Tran
Duc Long and other police officers then took him back to Dien
Binh, and tore down Christian banners hanging inside the house.
According to Mr. Xuan, the police forced him to admit to
committing two offenses -- assembling a large group together and
organizing illegal worship. He was fined 1.5 million Vietnamese
dong (about US$100) and warned that he would face larger fines and
possible imprisonment if he continued these activities. Major
Long also reportedly threatened Mr. Xuan that local Christians,
many of whom do not have household ownership books, would be
kicked out of their homes if they continued to worship.
4. (SBU) Mr. Nguyen Ksor Lai (protect), a Ja Rai (Gia Rai) ethnic
minority Protestant lay pastor, told Poloff he was summoned to the
district police office in Sa Thay District, Kon Tum on March 8,
2004, and ordered to sign a document saying he would stop
gathering Protestants together in his village. Three elderly
followers had apparently been threatened with imprisonment and
pressured into revealing him as their pastor. Mr. Lai stated that
his church attracts almost 100 worshippers every Sunday. When Mr.
Lai refused to sign the police document, he claimed police beat
him on his chest and sides until he fell down. He also reported
that police tried to force him to renounce his faith, and admit
that he had lied in a letter he sent to the government in 2003,
alleging physical abuse and violations of religious freedom. Mr.
Lai and three of his church leaders were brought back to the
police station on March 10, where they were again ordered to sign
the document promising to cease worship services in the village.
When they refused, Mr. Lai claimed they were all beaten. He said
this happened a third time, on March 11, with three different
followers. One member of this last group, Mr. Ksor It (protect),
was told to stand next to a statue of Ho Chi Minh, where police
asked him: "Who do you believe in, Jesus Christ or Uncle Ho?"
When Mr. It answered, "Jesus," police allegedly beat him until his
leg bled. Mr. Lai told Poloff that all seven Protestants had
finally agreed to sign a document agreeing not to meet, although
they planned to continue meeting anyway. He said that nobody
signed a renunciation. On March 15, Mr. Lai's wife was called to
the police station, where police told her to sign a document
renouncing her faith. She refused, and sat waiting in the police
station with no food or water for several hours until she fainted.
5. (SBU) Pastor Dinh Tan Vinh (protect), an ethnic Hre Protestant
who claimed to lead 101 house churches with 5,800 believers in
Quang Ngai Province, told Poloff of several incidents involving
his followers in Son Tay District, Quang Ngai. In late 2003,
local authorities reportedly kicked Mr. Dinh Van Hoang (protect)
out of his village near Son Tinh, burning down his house and
forcing him to move to another district. In early 2004, police
allegedly slaughtered the livestock of three new Protestant
families in the same village and forced them to engage in "idol
worship." (Note: According to Pastor Vinh, "idol worship"
includes the traditional animist ceremonies of the Hre people.)
On March 20, 2004, the adults from two of these families were
ordered to report to the district police station, where they were
allegedly told to renounce their faith. They were then ordered to
work in the police garden for five days and fined 400,000
Vietnamese dong (about US$25) per couple. Mr. Dinh Van Tru
(protect), a lay religious worker, apparently heard of their
detention and walked 40 kilometers to check up on them. Within an
hour of his arrival, he was allegedly detained by local police
chief Dinh Van Hanh, fined 100,000 Vietnamese dong (about
US$6.50), and beaten by four police officers for four hours. Mr.
Tru then "escaped" into the jungle and managed to walk the 40
kilometers back home that same day, where Pastor Vinh said one of
Mr. Tru's eyes was swollen shut from the beating. Pastor Vinh
repeatedly accused Mr. Cao Trung Tin, Communist Party chief of Son
Tay District, of having directed these incidents. Pastor Vinh
alleged to Poloff that Mr. Tin has ordered local authorities to
remove all Christians from his district, by any means necessary.
6. (SBU) Comment: These new allegations are troubling, if true,
but not terribly surprising in the context of Protestant
activities in Kon Tum Province. ConGenoffs have traveled to Kon
Tum several times over the past year (reftels), and find the
provincial leadership there to be either ill-informed or almost
completely out of step with GVN policies on religion, especially
with regard to Protestants. In fact, the statements by the local
police that Protestants are still not recognized matches what we
have heard directly from the chairmen of the Kon Tum Provincial
People's Committee and Committee on Religious Affairs on previous
7. (SBU) These three Protestants were brought to HCMC by one of
our most trusted contacts, in direct response to our continued
requests for meetings with firsthand sources. Of the three, Mr.
Xuan provided the clearest and most concise account. Mr. Lai's
account tended to go off track a bit, but still demonstrated
firsthand knowledge. Both men asked that the USG not/not raise
their cases with GVN officials unless and until church leaders in
Vietnam had decided to go public with their stories. Our local
contact said that his organization was planning to release a
report over the Internet on at least the Dien Binh incident.
8. (SBU) Pastor Vinh's story, on the other hand, was inconsistent
and filled with the sort of accusations and unconfirmed
allegations typical of second and third hand accounts. Many of
his claims were based on things he had merely "heard." Pastor
Vinh offered nothing to substantiate his claims that these
incidents were directed by the local Communist chief -- just that
he had "heard" this story.