Cablegate: Meeting with Activist Father Nguyen Van Ly

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

021120Z Jun 05


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E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: In his first meeting with U.S. officials since
his release from prison in February, democracy and religious
freedom activist Father Nguyen Van Ly told us that he would
continue to oppose Communist rule in Vietnam. Ly expressed
skepticism that the GVN would faithfully implement Vietnam's new
legal framework on religion and voiced criticism of his Church
leadership for being too soft on the GVN. Ly was energetic and in
good spirits, although he is being treated for tuberculosis. He
said he was not abused in prison. End Summary

2. (SBU) On May 25 in Hue, we met with religious freedom and
democracy activist Father Nguyen Van Ly at the residence of the
Archbishop of Hue. This was our first visit with Ly following his
amnesty and release from prison in February. (On October 19,
2001, the Thua Thien Hue Provincial People's Court sentenced Ly to
two years in prison for violating the terms of his previous
administrative detention and another thirteen years in prison for
"damaging the Government's unity policy." The court also
sentenced Ly to five years of administrative probation upon
release from prison.)

3. (SBU) Ly was animated and in good spirits throughout our one-
hour conversation. He said that he was not mistreated during his
latest four-year internment. Immediately after his arrest in May
2001, Ly said he launched four hunger strikes over the first four
months of his confinement to protest his detention. "After that
the authorities did not know what to do with me, so they left me
alone." Ly was held in solitary confinement in a special wing of
the prison reserved for special prisoners such dissidents and high
ranking white collar criminals. He had his own 12 meter square
cell with an enclosed 12 meter square yard in which he was allowed
to exercise twice a day.

4. (SBU) Ly said that the five-year administrative detention order
against him remains in force. At first, Hue provincial officials
sought to interpret that ruling to restrict him to the single ward
of the city in which the Archbishop's residence is located.
However, after he threatened public protest, he was allowed to
travel freely throughout the city. He is permitted to travel
outside of Hue with the prior permission of local authorities. In
early May, he travelled to Dong Nai province near HCMC to visit
family. He said that while transiting through HCMC, he visited
the wife of imprisoned Mennonite Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang at their
house church.

5. (SBU) Ly's health is fair. While appearing physically fit,
recent x-rays of his chest revealed "spots" on both lungs. His
doctor suspects tuberculosis and has started Ly on an intensive
year-long regimen to combat the disease.

The Church on Ly

6. (SBU) Prior to our meeting with Ly, we also met with the
Associate Bishop of Hue, Le Van Hong, Father Duong Quynh,
Chancellor of the Archdiocese and Father Le Van Thang, Secretary
of the Archbishop's Office to review how Vietnam's new legal
framework on religion is being implemented locally (septel).
During our discussion, we also touched on Father Ly. The three
clearly were uncomfortable discussing Ly. They said that Ly had
not yet been assigned to a parish because he remains under
administrative detention. The issue remains to be worked out with
provincial authorities. We asked the three Church officials
whether Ly had changed as a result of his incarceration; they said
that they have known and worked with Ly for many years; "he is no
different than before." When pressed for additional detail and
perspective, we were told, "you will see for yourself."

Primary Focus is Political Change

7. (SBU) Ly was very thankful for continuing USG concern about his
relatives. Ly said he had no interest in leaving Vietnam; his
role was to stay and fight for political change and
democratization. He was getting a new internet connection in his
room within the month and hoped to be able to communicate directly
with us and with others outside Vietnam shortly thereafter.

8. (SBU) At the start of our meeting, Ly handed us a four-point
agenda, neatly written in English. With the exception of point
one -- thanks to the USG for assisting his family -- Ly's focus
was entirely on promoting religious freedom and ending of
Communist Party rule in Vietnam. Agenda item two was Vietnam's
designation as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). Ly was very
familiar with the recent USG agreement with Vietnam not to impose
CPC sanctions. He expressed skepticism that the GVN would follow
through as pledged. While he acknowledged some progress in
implementing Vietnam's new legal framework on religion in urban
areas, local officials' attitudes in rural areas remain highly
problematic. Religious Organizations such as the Mennonite
Church, the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and others also
remain under intense GVN pressure. Ly singled out for criticism
the statement that the Archbishop of Hue made in August 2004 on
religious freedom issues in Vietnam, telling us that the statement
was not tough enough. Ly said that he plans to try and visit
Thich Quang Do, the General Secretary of the UBCV during a future
visit to HCMC to demonstrate his solidarity with him and the UBCV.

9. (SBU) Ly then turned to focus on items three and four of his
agenda: bringing political change and democracy to Vietnam. Ly
said that the first objective of those who desired change was to
"topple and depose" Ho Chi Minh. He anticipated that the
Communist Party would be able to hang on in Vietnam for another
"10 to 15 years" and asked for USG support to help identify and
cultivate a new generation of democratic leaders in Vietnam. As
our meeting ended, Ly pressed into our hands a 22-page, densely
written, open letter that he penned in prison expressing his
political and religious views. He said that he had written it in
a more neutral fashion in a hope that it would pass the scrutiny
of prison censors, but ultimately he was prevented from handing
the document to visiting family members. (Copy of the document
pouched to EAP/BCLTV.)

10. (SBU) Comment: Like Thich Quang Do, Ly is strong willed, well
informed, opinionated, and energetic. He is contemptuous of the
Communist Party and appears to view some of his more compromise-
oriented or gradualist colleagues in the Catholic Church with open
frustration. He firmly believes that Vietnam cannot have real
religious freedom until there is fundamental political change. He
sees himself as being tasked to help bring about that change. At
least in this meeting, Ly was not interested in dialogue on
issues, but was looking to us to provide a forum to the outside
for his views.



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