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Cablegate: (Sbu) Mfa Confirms Dissident's Release Under Consideration;

DE RUEHHI #1897/01 2070711
P 260711Z JUL 06





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) HANOI 1764; B) EAP/MLS OI 73-06; C) HANOI 1666

HANOI 00001897 001.2 OF 004

Summary and Comment

1. (SBU) On July 25, the MFA confirmed to the Ambassador that
prominent dissident Dr. Pham Hong Son will (likely) be released
September 2, but requested we keep this information close-hold
within the USG until the GVN makes their final decision in August.
The GVN has not decided if it will release other political and
religious prisoners. The MFA also provided a written update on
religious freedom developments and a written response to Senator
Grassley's recent questions on human rights in Vietnam. The
Ambassador encouraged the GVN to release all prisoners of concern
and to repeal or reform GVN Decree 31 (allowing arbitrary
imprisonment) before the President visits in November. He also
noted that slow progress on Protestant house church registration in
the north and continuing abuse of a Protestant congregation in Thanh
Hoa Province, including the beating of two women on July 24 (Poloff
was given photographs of their injuries), threatens to overshadow
Vietnam's progress on religious freedom even as the United States
considers its decision regarding Vietnam's Country of Particular
Concern (CPC) status.

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2. (SBU) Summary and Comment cont'd.: Son's impending release is
welcome news, although we will continue to push for the release of
all prisoners of concern. The Ambassador will meet with Son's wife
on July 27 to ascertain what she and another dissident's wife have
heard about the amnesty. Visits from Assistant Secretary Lowenkron
and Ambassador Hanford could help to continue to move the Vietnamese
in the right direction in the areas of human rights and religious
freedom before the President's November visit. End Summary and

Human Rights Developments

3. (SBU) Late on July 25, the Ambassador met with the MFA's
Department of International Organizations (MFA/IO) Director General
Pham Binh Minh. (Note: Minh is the GVN's Human Rights Dialogue
coordinator. He chaired the Vietnamese side in our bilateral
dialogue in February as well as similar dialogues with the EU,
Australia and other nations. End Note). Minh stated that he had
been instructed to keep us informed of human rights developments in
Vietnam following the February Human Rights Dialogue as part of the
GVN's commitment to show that the dialogue is "results based." He
handed over two documents outlining religious freedom and human
rights improvements in Vietnam. The first document, which detailed
religious developments over the past six months, is identical to
what Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA) Chairman Ngo Yen Thi sent
to Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom John
Hanford on July 8 (Ref A, paragraph 4). The second document was
drafted in response to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Grassley's
July 12 questions concerning religious freedom and Vietnam's Tier-2
status on Trafficking in Persons efforts (verbatim text in paragraph

4. (SBU) The Ambassador thanked Minh for the GVN's response to
Chairman Grassley's questions and urged the GVN to publicly commit
to continue to work with the United States to address our human
rights and religious freedom concerns following Vietnam's WTO
accession (Ref B). The Ambassador further noted that Assistant
Secretary for Democracy Rights and Labor Barry Lowenkron hopes to

return to Vietnam before the President visits in November.

5. (SBU) Reminding Minh that the United States is committed to a
results-based Human Rights Dialogue, the Ambassador noted that one
agenda item from February's round that has not seen much progress is
Decree 31 (which allows administrative detention on vague national
security grounds). We would like to see Decree 31 repealed or at
least reformed. To achieve substantive movement in this area,
hopefully before November, the United States is willing to assist
the GVN in providing technical assistance and expertise, but we need
an expression of interest from Hanoi, the Ambassador said.

Pham Hong Son

6. (SBU) Minh confirmed that prominent dissident Dr. Pham Hong Son
will "likely" be among the prisoners released in a general amnesty
on the occasion of Vietnam's National Day (September 2). MFA/IO had
recommended that the GVN consider releasing all four individuals on
our list of prisoners of concern (the others are Ma Van Bay, Nguyen
Vu Binh and Phan Van Ban). Minh was careful to state that "the
procedure for considering Son's release is still continuing" and
requested that the United Stated keep this information close hold,
even from other missions, until the GVN gives permission to inform
the public and Son's family. He implied, however, that news of the

HANOI 00001897 002.2 OF 004

release could be given to Members of Congress if it would not mean
public release of the information. (Note: On July 26, the MFA
provided Post with a copy of the letter Vietnamese Ambassador Chien
sent to Senator Grassley on July 25, which, among other things,
informs the Senator of the decision to release Son. Copy of letter
e-mailed to EAP/MLS. End Note.) The final decision will likely be
made public in late August, Minh added. The Ambassador asked if
others on our list of prisoners of concern, mentioning each by name,
will also be released. Minh only replied that "the (consideration
of amnesty) process is still ongoing." The Ambassador encouraged
the GVN to release all three, and reiterated his request to visit
Nguyen Vu Binh in prison if he is not to be released.

Religious Freedom

7. (SBU) The Ambassador noted that the decision point for
continuation of removal of Vietnam's CPC status on religious freedom
is fast approaching, and Ambassador Hanford may return to Vietnam
soon to encourage the GVN to speed up progress with registration of
Protestants in northern Vietnam and the Northwest Highlands. He
also raised U.S. concerns about the continuing troubles facing the
"Full Gospel" house church in Thanh Hoa Province (Ref C). (Note:
Poloff met with four members of the church just prior to the MFA
meeting. They reported that local officials continue to verbally
and physically abuse members of the congregation who attempt to
visit the home in which the group gathers for worship. On July 24,
two women who did so, Mrs. Le Thi Duc and her daughter Nguyen Thi
Huong, were beaten by plain clothed police and dragged to the local
cultural building where community residents were forced to insult
the pair and throw cow manure at them. Poloff met with Duc, who
showed him the severe swelling to the left side of her face and
provided photographs of the two taken just after the incident the
previous day. End Note.) Showing these photographs to DG Minh, the
Ambassador stressed that it would be unfortunate if continued
unpunished incidents like this overshadow the good progress Vietnam
has made in religious freedom. Minh stated that he has no
information about the situation in Thanh Hoa, but promised to
investigate. "We also know that some people who do bad things are
associated with religion and claim they are being persecuted for
religious reasons, though they really are not," he said. The
Ambassador stressed that the evidence in this case does not support
that explanation.


8. (SBU) Son's impending release is welcome news, although we will
continue to push for the release of all prisoners of concern. We
had already planned to meet with Son's and Binh's wives on July 27
to discuss their husbands' status. We will honor the GVN's request
to keep the decision to release Son close hold, but will ascertain
what they have heard about the amnesty. Visits from Assistant
Secretary Lowenkron and Ambassador Hanford could help to continue to

push the Vietnamese in the right direction in the areas of human
rights and religious freedom before the President's November visit.
End Comment.


9. (SBU) Begin verbatim GVN text:


(Para) 1. How does the trafficking categorization work?

The U.S. Department of State's Report on Trafficking in Persons
released 5 June 2006 placed 26 countries in Tier 1; 79 countries in
Tier 2 Non-watch list; 32 countries in Tier 2 Watch list and 12
countries in Tier 3.

Vietnam continues to be listed in Tier 2 Non-watch list, together
with 78 others (79 out of 149 countries covered by the report),
including such countries as Portugal, Moldova, Thailand, and the
Philippines. As compared with other countries in the region,
Vietnam is placed higher then Malaysia, India, Taiwan, and China.

(Para) 2. Why is Vietnam in the Tier 2 Non-watch category?

The major reason is that Vietnam has not made sufficient efforts to
combat trafficking, particularly the trafficking of Vietnamese women
as brides to destinations in East Asia and the forced labor
conditions of many Vietnamese workers sent abroad.

The Vietnamese Government has taken significant steps in this area,

HANOI 00001897 003.2 OF 004

including the following:

- increase the level of punishment for trafficking in women;
- pay increased attention to reintegrating victims of trafficking
into the community;
- strengthen cooperation with other countries in combating
trafficking in women, especially in controlling the Vietnamese
border with neighboring countries;
- inspect and regulate services offered by brokers in employment,
marriage, child adoption;
- increase activities on poverty reduction and job creation for
women; and
- advocate actively increasing the responsibility of the people in
preventing and fighting trafficking in women

The Government has also been collaborating with concerned countries
to fight the crime and to ensure the rights and dignity of
Vietnamese nationals who are there through marriages or labor

With respect to collaboration with the U.S., Vietnamese government
agencies have been cooperating with the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi,
providing information and data on this issue at the request of the

(Para) 3. What does the constitution and new religious freedom law
say about the right to establish a religion and practice one's

-Citizens have to right to freedom of belief and religion, that is,
to follow or not to follow a religion;

-The State guarantees the right to freedom of belief and religion of
its citizens.

-The Ordinance on Religion and Belief (passed by the National
Assembly on 18 June 2004) has elaborated on provisions in the
Constitution and codified the guidelines and policies of the State
of Vietnam on religions and beliefs in this new context. This legal
document better reflects the aspiration and needs for religious
belief and spiritual practices of the people and ensures compliance
with international conventions on human rights that Vietnam has
signed. Article 38 of the Ordinance eloquently states that "in case
of non-compliance with an international convention that Vietnam has
signed, the international conventional shall prevail."

(Para) 4. How many religions are recognized by the state, what are
they, and what does it mean to not be recognized? Does it mean you
cannot hold religious services by law and/or in practice?

On recognized religions: Vietnam is a multi-religious state, with
more than 20 million believers, and more than 30,000 places of
worship. Buddhism is the largest of the major world religions in
Vietnam, with about ten million followers and more than 20,000
pagodas dedicated to Buddha. The second largest is Catholicism,
with about six million followers and more than 6,000 churches
engaged in religious activities throughout the country. More than
500 churches damaged during the U.S. air war against Vietnam are
being rebuilt. Other recognized religious organizations are
northern Vietnam Evangelical Church and Southern Vietnam Evangelical
Church; Caodaism, Hoa Hao and Islam. These 6 major religions
consist of thousands of denominations.

Those denominations that have not been registered still can carry
out normal religious activities. At the same time, the Government
facilitates the process of application for official recognition.

The question of registration is for Protestant denominations only.
The process of registration was started a year ago after the
Ordinance of Religions and beliefs was promulgated in 1/1/2005. The
Prime Minister's ("PM") instruction on Protestant affairs was
released at the same time. So far, about 400 house churches and 600
worshipping places in the Central Highlands have been registered.
Three denominations (including one of the Baptist Churches) have
been recognized. The process of registration for all the remaining
denominations has been accelerated according to the Ordinance and PM

(Para) 5. What is status of Latter Day Saints, Jehovah's Witnesses,
and Baptists?

These denominations are in the process of registration. In Vietnam,
Baptists have 7 different churches. One of these has been
recognized; the remaining is in the process of registration.

(Para) 6. Of the 2 Cardinals, 1 archbishop and 36 bishops in the
Catholic religion, who has been appointed by the Vatican and who by
the government of Vietnam? Does the Government appoint cardinals,

HANOI 00001897 004.2 OF 004

bishops, and priests etc, or have veto power? When did it last use
its veto or disapproval power?

The last time the Government used its veto on a Vatican appointment
was in 1998. The current 2 Cardinals, 1 archbishop, and 36 Bishops
were all ordained by the Vatican. According to Vietnamese law, the
State does not nominate or ordain religious officials or leaders.

End verbatim GVN text.


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