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Cablegate: Well Known Mennonite Pastor Detained in Hcmc

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 000789

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV and DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI PGOV SCUL PREL KIRF VM RELFREE HUMANR
SUBJECT: WELL KNOWN MENNONITE PASTOR DETAINED IN HCMC

REF: A) HCMC 0232 B) 03 HCMC 0766 C) 03 HCMC 0933 D) 03 HCMC

1215
E) 03 HCMC 1222

1. (SBU) On the evening of June 8, ConGen HCMC received
information from several reliable Protestant contacts that police
in HCMC had "arrested" Mennonite Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang at his
home in District 2. This followed earlier reports that police
were searching the home, which doubles as an unrecognized house
church. One leading HCMC pastor said police had arrived at the
home at 1:00 p.m., under the pretext of performing some sort of
property survey. When Pastor Quang joined them outside, he was
quickly arrested and transferred to the District 2 police station.
The police returned an hour later to search Pastor Quang's entire
home, including his upstairs office. They also searched the house
next door, where Pastor Quang maintained office space for his
unofficial Boy Scout operations. Family and church members inside
the home witnessed the arrest and subsequent searches. They also
witnessed the police removing many documents from the two
premises, although they were not allowed to accompany police
during the search of the upstairs office. Police continued the
search until approximately 10:30 p.m. that night.

2. (SBU) According to one leader of the Vietnam Evangelical
Fellowship (VEF - a loose association of nearly 30 different
evangelical house church groups to which Pastor Quang belongs),
HCMC District 2 police arrested the Mennonite leader at around
4:00 p.m. on June 8. When several VEF members attempted to enter
the pastor's house, police blocked their way. Some members of the
VEF leadership telephoned their contacts in the HCMC police force
to protest the detention and search. (Post Note: The VEF has
built a relationship with individual police officers over the past
few years. They frequently call these officers for information
and/or advice. End note.) One VEF contact said a high-ranking
police official had told him that under "orders from the highest
authority," Pastor Quang would be brought up on charges for
"acting against the government." This VEF pastor speculated that
the arrest probably had something to do with the events of March 4
(ref A), when Pastor Quang and his colleagues physically attacked
security officials they believed were surveilling his house, and
after grappling with them, took their motorcycle. Police
eventually detained four individuals in the course of this
incident. Police "invited" one of Pastor Quang's assistants,
Pastor Nguyen Huu Hien, in for questioning on June 9, presumably
on a related matter.

3. (SBU) Pastor Quang is a self-described legal expert with plans
to establish an underground legal defense training and advocacy
center for religious groups. While he was unsuccessful in gaining
GVN recognition as the official legal representative of Father
Nguyen Van Ly, he somehow managed to talk his way into the trials
of the imprisoned Catholic priest's niece and two nephews last
year. Pastor Quang has also been a key player in several highly
publicized incidents of alleged GVN religious oppression in HCMC
over the past year, including the construction of an illegal house
church in District 2; the destruction of a small chapel in Can Gio
District; the physical altercation between police and Pastor Bui
Van Ba at a house church in District 11; and the distribution of
religious tracts disguised as sports program schedules for the
Southeast Asia Games (SeaGames) in December 2003 (refs B-D). In
the aftermath of the SeaGames incident, Pastor Quang organized a
sit-in with his followers at the local police station. He and a
couple dozen followers remained there until he got a signed
contract from the police agreeing to release two other followers
from detention in return for Quang calling off his bold sit-in
(ref E). He told Post last year that he has established an
independent, unregistered Boy Scout organization for Christians
only.

4. (SBU) Comment: This latest GVN move against a well-known
Protestant pastor is extremely unfortunate, though not entirely
unexpected. Details are still sketchy, but Pastor Quang has been
on the GVN's radar screen for some time. Pastor Quang's tendency
to make unsubstantiated claims that do not match what other
members of the Protestant community have told us about specific
events, and his increasingly strident rhetoric and militant
actions have moved some of his VEF colleagues to ask a sympathetic
foreign missionary to "counsel" him on self-control. Other
Protestant contacts in Vietnam have expressed concern that many of
Pastor Quang's activities are more political than religious. In
the past, Pastor Quang has told ConGenoffs that the GVN is
reluctant to take him on because they know the U.S. is on his
side. He has embroidered an American flag on his shirtsleeves,
challenging security forces to "go ahead and hit me there, because
if you hit the United States, it will strike back." It is
possible that this latest turn of events is based on the results
of a lengthy and detailed police investigation into Pastor Quang's
activities over the past few years, and the authorities may not be
so forgiving this time. Post will continue to follow up.
YAMAUCHI

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