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Cablegate: Das Dugan Meets with Party, Practitioners On

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

300710Z Nov 04





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: During November 23 meetings in Hanoi, a
Communist Party official told DRL DAS Elizabeth Dugan that
the Party upholds freedom of religion in Vietnam and
stressed that the country's thriving religious life is proof
of this. However, the official said that Protestantism has
been very disruptive in some parts of Vietnam, causing local
officials to be prejudiced against it. A leader of the
officially recognized Buddhist denomination claimed that
Vietnam has complete religious freedom, something foreigners
"do not understand." A Catholic bishop was less positive,
documenting the imbalances in permitted activities between
northern and southern Vietnam and expressing disappointment
at the new Ordinance on Religion. End Summary.

Party Remains Suspicious of Protestants

2. (SBU) Trinh Xuan Gioi, Vice Chairman of the Mass
Mobilization Commission of the Communist Party, began his
November 23 meeting with DAS Dugan by explaining the role
and activities of the Commission. As a component of the
Central Committee of the Communist Party, the Mass
Mobilization Commission studies ways in which the government
can enact the guidance of the Party in a manner that reaches
every citizen. The Commission focuses on social groups,
including workers, women, intellectuals, minorities and
religious organizations. (Note: The Commission is the body
through which the Party oversees most social groups. End
note.) Gioi proceeded to a familiar recitation of the ways
in which freedom of religion is upheld in Vietnam. Freedom
of belief was established by a 1955 law on religious affairs
and recently upheld in a Party resolution. Responding to
this resolution, the National Assembly issued the new
Ordinance on Religion, which further guarantees religious
freedom. Today there are six major religions in Vietnam and
over 21,000 places of worship, including one in almost every
village. Despite the nation's poverty, many churches and
temples have been renovated and religious festivals are
widely celebrated. Religious organizations are free to
organize and meet; for example, the Hoa Hao Buddhist
organization recently held its second congress in Southern
Vietnam, Gioi noted.

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3. (SBU) Responding to DAS Dugan's question, Gioi said that
the Party supports the social programs that religious groups
carry out. Religious organizations have opened nursery
schools, churches provide scholarships for students and
religious workers operate leprosy centers. The Party and
Government consider these to be positive actions. Gioi
noted that there are some areas in which local authorities
have not allowed practitioners to build or renovate
churches, but added that these are unusual instances and
that the Commission is working to implement more broadly the
Party's goals.

4. (SBU) Addressing the banned Unified Buddhist Church of
Vietnam (UBCV), Gioi said that this organization and most of
its leaders peacefully united with the Vietnam Buddhist
Sangha (VBS) after unification of the country, and thus
ceased to exist as an independent body. Current UBCV
activists Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do have not
followed the rest of the UBCV's leadership in joining the

5. (SBU) Turning to Protestantism, Gioi said that the
preaching of this faith is a "shock" to many people. Some
Protestant preachers have said that the aim of their
religion is to establish independent Dega and Hmong nations.
As such, local authorities have come to view the religion as
a "political scheme." Preachers also pressure and
intimidate people to join Protestantism, attempt to divide
families and force adherents to remove their traditional
home altars. Especially in mountainous areas, Protestantism
has led to family divisions and social conflict, and, as a
result, some local officials have become prejudiced against
the religion. Making a historical comparison, Gioi said
that when Catholicism was introduced to Vietnam during the
Nguyen dynasty, it was also a "shock," and feudal leaders
banned the religion and executed many of its followers.
"This was unacceptable," Gioi admitted. In southern
Vietnam, "80 percent of Protestants follow religious life
normally," Gioi specified, and only a portion the
Protestants active in the Central Highlands have taken
advantage of the religion to advance "political goals."
"Where worship is normal, authorities must recognize
congregations; however, where there are problems,
authorities will delay recognition," Gioi said.

6. (SBU) DAS Dugan said that, in the United States,
religions are considered to be grounded in doctrine and not
to have political motives. If religious leaders commit
improper actions, however, they are dealt with through the
justice system in a transparent manner. She added that
while it is clear that there are a great many practitioners
and opportunities for worship in Vietnam, the detention of
individuals for peacefully practicing their faith undermines
all of Vietnam's efforts to highlight these freedoms to
foreign observers.

Official Buddhists - Situation Rosy

7. (SBU) In a separate meeting November 23, the Venerable
Thich Thanh Tu, Rector of the Buddhist Academy in Hanoi and
Vice President of the Executive Council of the Vietnam
Buddhist Sangha (VBS), told DAS Dugan that, "through peace
and war, Vietnam's Buddhists have always been united."
Buddhism has been practiced in Vietnam for 2,000 years and,
without freedom of religion in the country, this would not
have been possible. Ho Chi Minh himself issued an order
guaranteeing religious freedom. The new Ordinance on
Religion reiterates this, and the "people are very happy
about it." The Ordinance also serves to clarify provisions
that uphold this freedom. It was issued for foreign
observers who do not understand that freedom of religion
exists in Vietnam, Thich Thanh Tu claimed.

8. (SBU) DAS Dugan inquired about the relationship between
the VBS and the UBCV, as well as about the reason why UBCV
leader Thich Quang Do was stopped from traveling to visit
Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang. Thich Thanh Tu said he sees
the two UBCV leaders as the VBS's "religious partners," and
added that "there is no division between us." He said the
GVN has been "compassionate" towards the two UBCV leaders,
with Party and Government leaders visiting Thich Huyen Quang
when he was in the hospital in Hanoi, as well as calling
upon him in his temple in Binh Dinh Province. Thich Thanh
Tu said he had personally visited Thich Huyen Quang in Binh
Dinh, and, upon hearing that he had recently fallen ill,
planned to invite him to Hanoi for treatment. He did not
know why Thich Quang Do would be blocked from visiting Thich
Huyen Quang, but suggested that Do's doctors might have
prevented him from traveling due to his heart condition.

Catholics - More Restrictions in the North

9. (SBU) Joined by the Ambassador, DAS Dugan began her
November 23 meeting with Ngo Quang Kiet (protect), Bishop of
Lang Son Diocese and Apostolic Administrator of the Hanoi
Diocese, by noting that she had met with Archbishop Man in
Ho Chi Minh City two days before. Bishop Kiet said that the
situation of the Church in northern and southern Vietnam is
different "in almost every field." The Diocese of Ho Chi
Minh City has roughly 500,000 faithful and 500 priests to
minister to them, while Hanoi has 350,000 believers but only
60 priests. The ability to train priests is much greater in
the south, with each diocese allowed ten to 20 students per
seminary class, while in the north, only five to ten
students are allowed. After complaining to the GVN, the
Church has been allowed 11 students per diocese in this
year's Hanoi seminary class. In every diocese in the south,
churches run nursery schools, while in the north, this is
only allowed in Hanoi. Similarly, in the south the Church
runs a number of health clinics and organizes doctors to
provide health care in the countryside, while only one
Catholic clinic exists in the north. When DAS Dugan
inquired about the reason for such inconsistencies, Kiet
said that "we are confused about this and have complained to
the Government, but they did not answer us."

10. (SBU) Turning to the new Ordinance on Religion, Bishop
Kiet said that the document "demonstrates the good will of
the Government." He noted that the Government solicited a
broad range of opinions in the drafting process, but said
the Church was disappointed that these opinions do not seem
to be reflected in the final version. The Ordinance has
some "new points," but the Church also has many
reservations, and it is not the "complete renovation" of the
issue they had hoped for. Bishop Kiet said that he had not
had a chance to comment on the draft of the implementing
regulations of the Ordinance as he had been away when the
Committee for Religious Affairs held a discussion session in
Hanoi. However, the Bishop's Council has requested that the
regulations provide better definitions of "ambiguous terms"
such as "registration" and "notification." The Ambassador
inquired as to whether the Church could now transfer priests
from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, which is seemingly allowed
under the new Ordinance. Bishop Kiet said they had not
tried this recently and expressed his belief that the
Ordinance is intended to allow transfers of priests within
the same diocese only. Finally, responding to the
Ambassador's question, Bishop Kiet said that proselytization
is not a problem in large cities, but is more difficult in
mountainous areas.

11. (U) DAS Dugan has cleared this cable.

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