Cablegate: Controversial Kontum Pastor Fans Religious Controversy

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. (U) On November 4 post received from EAP/BCLTV an electronic
copy of letter from Kon Tum Mennonite Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh
dated October 26 containing two highly inflammatory allegations:

-- in late September, Kon Tum provincial police detained and
tortured seven new converts for three days, forcing them to sign
documents renouncing their faith; and,

-- in mid-October, police in the town of Pleiku (located in the
neighboring province of Gia Lai, some 40 kilometers from Kon Tum)
detained four pastors affiliated with a local Mennonite church
and, after four days of "unrelenting pressure," forced them to
sever their ties to the Mennonite church and to renounce their
faith. Per reftel, Pastor Chinh has been involved in a land
dispute with Kon Tum authorities, which led to the demolition of
his home, which he used as a house church, on September 20.

2. (SBU) Two reliable religious contacts in HCMC and in Gia
Lai Province -- which borders Kon Tum Province -- told us November
4 that their understanding of what occurred in Kon Tum and Pleiku
belies Pastor Chinh's claims. With regard to the Kon Tum
incident, our contacts can confirm that the seven individuals were
summoned for police questioning over a period of four days because
of their relationship with Pastor Chinh. They were allowed to go
home each day after questioning.

3. (SBU) Our contacts told us that -- as far as they understand --
there was no police effort to compel renunciation of faith in Kon
Tum. Rather the police ordered the seven not to assemble in
unauthorized locations, but rather to worship in recognized
churches. Our HCMC source added that he has been in regular
contact with Pastor Chinh and that, during these conversations,
Pastor Chinh has never made any allegations of forced
renunciation. Neither source has any information regarding police
brutality in Kon Tum.

4. (SBU) Our Gai Lai contact -- based in Pleiku -- told us that
the church and the four pastors that Chinh mentioned in his letter
were not affiliated with the Vietnamese Mennonite church, but with
the officially-recognized Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam
(SECV). According to our contact, after Chinh met with the four
SECV members, the police summoned the four for "informational
interviews". There was no police brutality, according to our Gai
Lai contact. He added that the SECV is "upset" that Pastor Chinh
is muddying the waters in Pleiku, particularly as it has been
making progress in building a better relationship with local

5. (SBU) Comment: The fact that two reliable contacts, both of
whom have been critical of the GVN practices on religion in the
past, are at odds with Pastor Chinh speaks volumes. Pastor Chinh
appears to be increasingly willing to distort the truth in an
effort to agitate for greater religious freedom in Vietnam. In
the process it appears that he is not only bringing down the wrath
of local authorities on himself and his followers, but also
threatening to undermine the efforts of other religious groups in
the sensitive Central Highlands.


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