Cablegate: Amcit Pastor and 17 Hmong Detained in Religious Training

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

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: HCMC authorities on October 11 detained two
Protestant pastors, one of whom was an American citizen, and 17
ethnic Hmong Protestant deacons from Northern Vietnam attending a
Bible training class at a private house in HCMC. Police told the
participants their meeting was illegal. The pastors were released
the same day, though the AmCit was ordered to leave Vietnam by
October 15 and informed that Vietnamese law prohibited him from
teaching religion in Vietnam. The Hmong deacons were held
overnight and then sent home to the northwestern provinces of
Vietnam. ConGen DPO raised the case with an unapologetic Acting
Pol-Econ chief of the HCMC External Relations Office, who observed
that American citizens need to be aware of the rules governing
religious practice in Vietnam. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) Pastor Doan Trung Tin (strictly protect), Director of the
Vietnam Good News Mission -- a non-recognized Protestant
evangelical organization -- notified us that, on October 11, 17
Hmong deacons from northwest Vietnam, a local HCMC pastor and an
AmCit pastor of Laotian Hmong descent, were detained after the
police broke up a religious training class in a private house in
HCMC. The police also detained the owner of the home. , Pastor
Tin said that his organization sponsored the training class, and
claimed that he had held similar training sessions in HCMC for
ethnic minorities in the past. This time, however, the police
informed the participants that they were detained because the
meeting was illegal. The two pastors and the owner of the house
were released the same day, but the 17 Hmong remained in detention
overnight before being returned to the Northwest highlands the
following day.

3. (SBU) We met with the AmCit, Pastor Vang on October 13.
Pastor Vang said That when he arrived at the private home on the
morning of October 11, the police were already present. He said
he was held at a police station until 7:00 p.m. and charged with
failing to provide proper identification upon request -- his hotel
retained his passport per standard practice in Vietnam -- and for
engaging in activities inconsistent with his visa and his stated
purpose of entry. Pastor Vang was ordered to report to the
immigration police the following day. After nine hours in
immigration police custody, Vang was ultimately charged with
failing to provide proper identification, fined 500,000 Dong (USD
30), and told to leave Vietnam by October 15. Immigration police
also confiscated his religious materials, camcorder and computer
disks. According to Van, the immigration police informed him that
it was against the law for a foreign missionary to teach religion
in Vietnam.

4. (SBU) Pastor Vang said that this was his first trip to Vietnam.
He told us that he had heard of training classes being organized
for Hmong Protestants, and thought he could be of assistance
because he is Hmong. Pastor Vang said that, prior to his travel,
he had contacted the Vietnamese Embassy in the U.S. to inquire
about religious issues in Vietnam, but was referred to the
Vietnamese Embassy website. According to the pastor, the material
there indicated that Vietnam allows religious freedom and freedom
of assembly, with one document urging pastors to come to Vietnam
themselves to witness the situation. Pastor Vang indicated to us
that he was not handcuffed or mistreated while in custody, but he
was visibly shaken by his detention. He asked several times if
there was a higher Vietnamese authority that he could complain to
about the incident involving the 17 Hmong. We recommended that he
maintain a low profile for the remainder of his stay in Vietnam.

5. (SBU) DPO raised the detention of Pastor Vang and the 17 Hmong
Vietnamese with Pham An, Acting Chief of the PolEcon unit of the
HCMC External Relations Office on October 13. Noting the release
of Pastor Vang, the DPO indicated that we trusted the Vietnamese
authorities would continue to treat him in a professional manner.
The DPO stressed that the situation of the 17 Hmong also was of
concern and said we would appreciate an update on their status.
The DPO stressed that it is important for local and national
authorities to treat the 17 Hmong with care so as not to have
their case spillover onto the broader debate of freedom of
religion in Vietnam and its recent designation as a Country of
Particular Concern (CPC).

6. (SBU) An observed that 17 Hmong meeting in a private residence
in HCMC would "hardly be invisible" to local authorities. He
suggested that the organizers had not sought permission to
assemble and were intentionally creating a a provocation to
trigger a GVN reaction that would in turn lead to an international
outcry. In general, Hmong issues were very sensitive, but
particularly after CPC designation, all Vietnamese officials were
"on alert," An added. . An urged that Americans better understand
procedures that need to be followed for religious training and all
gatherings in Vietnam.

7. (SBU) COMMENT: The Hmong incident is a reminder that even in
relatively cosmopolitan HCMC, it is still all too easy for
unauthorized religious groups -- particularly outsiders --to run
afoul of local authorities and Vietnam's strict constraints on
freedom of assembly. One silver lining is that our local
colleagues understand that they are being watched closely on how
they treat religious groups, recognized or not. In that regard An
assured us that none of the 17 Hmong will be "detained
whatsoever." Pastor Tin told us on October 18 that he had
confirmation that at least one of the Hmong deacons had returned
home, and he believed that the rest also had returned and were not
facing retribution from local authorities.


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