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Cablegate: Local Protestants Take Cautious Approach to Mennonite

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 000796

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI PGOV PREL KIRF VM HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: LOCAL PROTESTANTS TAKE CAUTIOUS APPROACH TO MENNONITE
PASTOR'S ARREST

REF: A) HCMC 0789 B) HCMC 0232 C) HCMC 0573 D) Hanoi 1268

1. (SBU) Summary: ConGen followed up with several local
Protestant leaders on June 10, to obtain additional details on the
June 8 detention of Mennonite pastor Nguyen Hong Quang (ref A) in
HCMC. ConGen also obtained a copy of an official "announcement"
of the arrest, which the District 2 police reportedly gave to
Pastor Quang's on June 10. ConGen sources recognized the
seriousness of the GVN's case against their colleague, and
stressed the need to deal with the authorities in a measured way.
At the same time, the HCMC Committee on Religious Affairs has
apparently urged the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam to
keep its distance from this case. End summary.

2. (SBU) One local Protestant contact said he and his wife had
visited Pastor Quang's home on the evening of June 9 to comfort
the family. They noted that police appeared to have removed
Pastor Quang's computer and all paper documents, but had not
ransacked or damaged the property. (Post Note: This latter
statement runs contrary to a June 10 report published by "Compass
Direct," which differs in tone and substance in its account of the
arrest and events leading up to it. End note.) This same
Protestant contact provided ConGen with what he claimed was the
wife's account of the arrest. She reportedly told him that she,
Pastor Quang and their three children were in their District 2
home on the afternoon of June 8, when one of their church workers
telephoned from another piece of property they own 300 meters down
the road to say that several land officials from the city were
there to survey the property. When Pastor Quang went to meet with
the officials, "approximately 100 police suddenly materialized" at
both his house and the other property. Police immediately
handcuffed and took Pastor Quang away without a struggle. Four
church workers inside the building witnessed the incident, but did
not have time to assist their leader. They said the arrest
happened very quickly, and while police reportedly held a handgun
to Pastor Quang's neck, they did not treat him violently. The
four church workers were kept inside the building for several
hours, while police searched the premises. They were able to use
their cell phones to contact their associates, however.

3. (SBU) At the same time, the wife reportedly recounted to
ConGen's source, police poured through several different doors of
the pastor's primary residence. In fact, she found police already
in the second floor office by the time she and several other
church workers made it up the staircase. Police also secured the
house next door, which Pastor Quang used for additional office
space. Approximately 20 family and friends at the primary
residence were kept inside for several hours while police
searched, although at least one of them was able to contact a
member of the Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship (VEF) leadership on
his cell phone. When that VEF leader arrived about 30 minutes
later, he thought Pastor Quang was still inside his house. As he
approached the house, he reportedly received a telephone call from
a contact in the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) advising him to
leave. Upon contacting a higher level MPS officer, he was told
that the arrest order had come down from "the highest authority,"
which the pastor assumed to mean the central government in Hanoi.
This second MPS contact also told him that Pastor Quang's own
associates had provided the information leading to the arrest,
allegedly accusing Pastor Quang of inciting them to attack police
on March 4 (ref B).

4. (SBU) According to this same ConGen source, Pastor Quang's wife
was "invited" to the District 2 police station on the morning of
June 10. She was not allowed to see her husband, but was asked to
witness the opening of evidence bags she had signed for during the
search on June 9. But since she herself did not know what was
inside the evidence bags, Pastor Quang's wife told police she did
not wish to witness their opening. She was released after several
hours. Before she left, she was given a copy of a police report
affirming her husband's temporary detention on charges of
"inciting and encouraging others to obstruct officials in the
furtherance of their duties." One of Pastor Quang's assistants,
Pastor Nguyen Huu Hien appeared at the District 2 police station
on June 11, two days after he was "invited" to speak with them.
He was released from questioning after a few hours, despite
others' fears that he would also be arrested.

5. (SBU) Another VEF leader told ConGen that Pastor Quang was
arrested because the GVN was angry over information he had
published regarding the March 4 incident and other topics on an
activist website, www.ykien.net ("y kien" means opinion in
Vietnamese). This would put him in the category of a cyber-
dissident, rather than a religious worker. The VEF leader said he
believes a May letter from the Mennonite Church in the U.S. to the
GVN regarding the March 4 incident was yet another aggravating
factor. According to this VEF leader, the GVN was feeling
"empowered by its success in deceiving" the international
community over the true nature of recent ethnic demonstrations in
the Central Highlands (refs C and D). He noted that police had
visited three prominent house church services in HCMC the previous
Sunday to question the pastors about their religious activities,
something that almost never happens in this city. He worried that
Pastor Quang's latest encounter with the law was extremely
serious, and was based on a lengthy investigation. He said Pastor
Quang's colleagues from the VEF planned to continue their
discussions with contacts in MPS on June 11. (Post will report
via septel.) He also noted that the VEF had decided three days
before the June 8 arrest to draft a report to the GVN on the
current state of the house church movement. The arrest would not
affect those plans, although they would not address the Pastor
Quang arrest in that document. The VEF knew that they needed to
be careful in approaching this issue with the GVN. He did not
think there would be any sort of organized protest at the police
station.

6. (SBU) A separate Protestant contact reported to ConGen that the
Chairman and Vice Chairman of the HCMC Religious Affairs Committee
spent one hour at the offices of the government-recognized
Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV) on June 10 to advise
them against getting involved in this matter. They "reminded" the
Executive Board that Pastor Quang was not a member of the SECV,
and that the Mennonites were not affiliated with the Christian and
Missionary Alliance Church, the founding denomination of the SECV.
They described the arrest as an appropriate response to Pastor
Quang's opposition to the government, which was a criminal matter,
not a religious one. On June 12, another Protestant contact
called to say that he had heard the police had returned to Pastor
Quang's house for a second search.

7. (SBU) Comment: Despite being directly asked, none of the
Post's local contacts was willing to characterize Pastor Quang's
arrest as some sort of larger GVN crackdown on Protestants,
although there were hints that the lack of a coordinated
international response to recent events in the Central Highlands
might have emboldened the GVN. There appears to be a clear
recognition among local Protestant leaders, however, that Pastor
Quang is something of a special case. In their own minds, he may
have crossed the line between purely religious work and
controversial political activism in his bold confrontations with
the GVN, and there are those Protestants who do not see their
future as being out on that limb with him.
YAMAUCHI

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