Cablegate: Thanh Hoa Protestants Report Beating by Police

DE RUEHHI #1520/01 1711251
P 201251Z JUN 06





E.O. 12958: N/A


HANOI 00001520 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. On June 20, Poloffs met with a Protestant
individual from Thanh Hoa Province who provided a credible report
that he and another Protestant had been beaten by police on June 18
after they were taken from their house church. Poloffs presented
this information, including graphic photographs, to MFA officers who
were visibly shaken by the report. The MFA pursued the inquiry
after hours, presenting the report to senior MFA leaders and to the
Ministry of Public Security (MPS). Reporting the same evening, our
MFA interlocutor stated that though MPS is skeptical of the report,
they are sending officers from Hanoi to Thanh Hoa to investigate.
Our initial take is that this is a credible report, but we will try
to verify information directly in Thanh Hoa as soon as possible.
The quick response from the GVN is significant, but we have not yet
seen a coordinated or official reaction. End Summary.

2. (SBU) On June 20, Poloff met with Nguyen Trung Ton, a member of
the executive board of the United Gospel Church of Vietnam, aka "The
Full Gospel Church" in Thieu Vien Commune, Thieu Hoa District, Thanh
Hoa Province. Ton requested the meeting on June 19 by cell phone
while Embassy team was on provincial travel. Ton had been visibly
beaten with the left side of his face badly bruised and right eye
swollen shut. He explained that Ton and another individual named
Hac Ngoc Sy were beaten by commune level police on June 18 after
they were taken from their house church meeting point.


3. (SBU) Ton explained that his forty-person congregation formed in
the 1990s and has been particularly active since 2000. Initially,
they faced police harassment and "a number of individuals renounced
their faiths under threat of force," however, in the last few years
police attention had died down. This changed in early May of 2006.
On May 14 a visiting pastor named Ho Duc Toan conducted services at
the congregations meeting point, a house church owned by a woman
named Le Thi Minh. Police raided this meeting and took Toan and
Minh to the local People's Committee (PC) headquarters. The Thieu
Vien Committee on Religious and Ethnic Affairs informed them that
their services were illegal and advised the congregation to register
legally under the GVN's new framework on religion. On May 23 or 24
(Ton wasn't sure which date) Toan and Minh submitted their
application as instructed. However, the local PC refused to accept
the application as "they had not received any instructions or
guidance from higher authorities about allowing Protestant
activities to continue," Ton said.

4. (SBU) Ton's church has been in contact with us before. In early
June, Ton and Tran Van Ky, both members of the Thanh Hoa Full Gospel
provincial management board, told ConGen Political officers that the
FG congregation in Village 6, Thieu Van Commune, Thieu Hoa District,
Thanh Hoa province had been "continuously harassed by local
authorities and police." On June 4, they reported that police
dismissed the Sunday service, detained four people without written
explanation, "beat them up" and confiscated four bicycles. The four
followers were released that night, but were required to pay an
administrative fine of VND 100,000 each. No reason for this fine
was given.

5. (SBU) Ky said police asked followers individually to renounce
their faith because it is "an American faith." Followers recorded a
tape, in which local authorities and a chief of police named Hoe
reportedly said "local rules prevail over the national legal

6. (SBU) According to the Full Gospel members, in mid-May Ms. Le Thi
Minh, in charge of this 40-member congregation, sent a letter to
local authorities asking for assistance and instructions to operate
in accordance with Decree 01 and the Ordinance on Religion. The
church members reported that Full Gospel is not yet eligible for
recognition, but Minh cited Decree 01's guidance that local
authorities should give instructions to groups such as Full Gospel
to operate while waiting for its headquarters to register at the
national level. Ms. Minh did not receive a response.

7. (SBU) FG Pastor Ho Duc Tuan (based in the Southern province of
Vung Tau) visited this congregation on May 14 and was "invited" to
the commune police station for a work session, where authorities
asked him to stop activities in Thanh Hoa until FG is recognized or
face continued arrests, FG members reported.

Arrests on June 18

8. (SBU) According to Ton's report to Hanoi Poloff, under pressure
from the commune police in Thanh Hoa, many members of the church
stopped attending services on Sundays. On the morning of June 18,
at 8:30 a.m., only four members of the church and Ms. Minh were in

HANOI 00001520 002.2 OF 002

attendance. The congregants had not begun services yet and were
"only chatting" when five members of the local police led by Deputy
Police Chief Tran Kiem entered the church and demanded to know what
was going on. Four of the members, including Ton and Sy, were asked
to come to the local security station. Minh snapped two photos of
the group as they were leaving her home (REF A, pictures 1 and 2).

9. (SBU) Ton stated that at the station, Ton, Sy and an unnamed
third individual were questioned for ten hours (8:30 a.m. to 6:30
p.m.). A fourth individual was allowed to leave the station because
he was from the commune. Ton stated that he and the others live in
a neighboring commune but attend services in Thieu Vien. The
questioning began "relatively cordially" but over time became more
difficult. At noon, police officials began drinking alcohol with
their lunch. The prisoners were not allowed to eat or drink and in
the afternoon, on the instruction of the police chief (NFI), were
placed in separate interrogation rooms. By 4:30, Ton stated that
some of the officers in his interrogation room appeared to be drunk
and also appeared "to be waiting for a signal to beat him." He said
that by this point he was "feeling bored with the detailed
questioning" and asked the officers in the room to come to the
point. Kiem or the police chief asked Ton: "Do you plan to continue
to come to this commune to attend services?" Ton replied: "
is allowed by law...if it weren't, I wouldn't come." The police
chief then grabbed Ton by the shirt collar and his hair and slapped
him three times. The rest of the officers in the room, including
Kiem, joined in and beat Ton for ten minutes focusing on his left
eye and torso. (Note: as they were all right-handed they would not
have hit his right side as he faced them. End note.) After this,
the group moved into the room next door where Sy was being
interrogated and beat him as well, Ton said.

10. (SBU) Following the beatings, Ton and Sy were released (NFI
about the third individual). They returned to Minh's home where she
immediately photographed them (REF A, pictures 3-6). Ton presented
the photos to Poloff and asked that we raise the event with the GVN.
In the photos, Ton appears to have been more severely beaten than
Sy as his face and clothing are bloodied in the photographs. The
bruises and damage Poloff saw on Ton's face June 20 was consistent
with the photographs taken two days earlier. Ton said that he did
not have any torso bruises.

MFA Demarche

11. (SBU) Immediately following the meeting with Ton, Poloffs
requested a meeting with MFA officials to discuss the report and
photographs. The officials were clearly shaken and stated that they
were shocked by what they saw and heard. Poloffs emphasized that
this case will receive considerable attention in the United States.
This case is especially important, Poloffs stressed, as we have
identified location, officials involved and witnesses/victims who
want to come forward publicly with their allegations. The MFA
officers said they appreciated hearing about this case from the
Embassy before it hit the Internet. They were not prepared to
provide an official response.

First GVN Reaction

12. (SBU) At 7:00 p.m. Poloff received a phone call from MFA
America's Desk Section Chief Le Chi Dung. Dung stated he made the
report to his superiors and to the Ministry of Public Security
(MPS). MPS told MFA they have no reports of "incidents" from Thanh
Hoa but recognize that they might not have heard about it. MPS also
commented to MFA that the date stamps on the photos appear to be
doctored. Dung reported that he told the MPS officer that Embassy
staff had met with the victims personally and were eyewitnesses to
the recent injuries. MPS agreed to investigate more thoroughly to
"verify" the situation and will send officers to Thanh Hoa from
Hanoi to look into the situation at the commune in question, Dung


13. (SBU) Our initial take is that this is a credible report, but we
are working solely from the victim's account. We will try to verify
information directly in Thanh Hoa as soon as possible. The quick
response from the GVN is significant and demonstrates that MFA and
MPS appreciate the potential impact of this case.


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