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Cablegate: Embassy Assessment of Conditions for Protestants In

VZCZCXRO8266
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH RUEHPB
DE RUEHHI #2148/01 2350648
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 230648Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3143
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 1676
RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 002148

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KIRF PREL PGOV VM
SUBJECT: EMBASSY ASSESSMENT OF CONDITIONS FOR PROTESTANTS IN
NORTHERN VIETNAM

REF: A) JENSEN-ADAMSON DRL/IRF E-MAIL 8/8/06; B) HANOI 894; C) HANOI

1466 and previous

HANOI 00002148 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: The GVN appears to be fighting an uphill battle to
force northern provincial officials to change their approach to
religion. Suspicions that Protestants are agents of the United
States are still deeply ingrained in the region, and some local
officials find it hard to take seriously disorganized groups of
believers. Natural tensions between followers of traditional ethnic
minority beliefs and Protestants are often exacerbated by local
officials who are themselves ethnic minorities. Other leaders
simply seek to avoid any controversy that might draw the
international community's attention, while steering clear of any
decisions that might be seen as too radical by the GVN. Most
officials thus try to delay Protestant requests to register. The
GVN is slowly raising the costs associated with stalling tactics,
and many officials seem to recognize that their careers are now
threatened by bad publicity, but the full import of these pressures
will take time to sink in at the local level. End Summary.

2. (SBU) This message expands upon Ref A analysis of why GVN
officials in the north, especially those in the Northwest Highlands
region, lag behind the rest of Vietnam in implementing the GVN's new
framework for religious freedom, particularly with regard to
registration of house church congregations affiliated with the
Evangelical Church of Vietnam-North (ECVN).

3. (SBU) We assess that the main reason there have been so few (and
possibly no) ECVN registrations to date in northern Vietnam is that
Hanoi-based GVN officials are fighting an uphill battle to force
provincial officials (especially security personnel) to change their
approach to religion. In the north, suspicions that Protestants are
agents of the United States are still deeply ingrained.
Undoubtedly, many of the senior northern provincial party and
security officials established their early reputations by rooting
out religious or other "subversive" groups in the 1980's and 1990's,
and the institutional instinct to repress such groups remains
strong. Outside attention often serves to reinforce this reaction.


4. (SBU) It is important to note that ECVN groups in the northwest
provinces tend to be very disorganized. Most leaders lack any
face-to-face training with qualified pastors, and many believers
have only a rudimentary idea of their religion at best. Some local
officials find it hard to take such groups seriously. In addition,
there is a natural tension that arises between followers of
traditional ethnic minority beliefs and new ethnic minority
Protestants in these traditional communities. These tensions can be
exacerbated by local officials who themselves are usually ethnic
minorities.

5. (SBU) Our impression from conversations with many officials in
the remoter districts of the Northwest Highlands is that their main
motivation is to avoid any controversy that might draw the
international community's attention. In their view, the worst crime
any citizen could commit is to call attention to the officials'
performance by accepting ideas from the outside and challenging the
accepted social order (and the officials' professional reputations),
especially if those ideas are associated with the United States.
Thus, in some places, our direct investigation of (or intervention
in) conditions for specific Protestant groups seems to have actually
worsened these suspicions, at least initially.

6. (SBU) Another aspect of this same problem is that most provincial
and local officials in these areas seem loathe to take any action
that might be seen as unconventional. Official "radicalism" is
dangerous to their careers for the same reasons that it is
unacceptable for local groups to upset the social order in their
communities. Conversely, the safest path for a minor apparatchik is
to do nothing, or even to remain hard-line, on the issue of
religion.

7. (SBU) In short, few local leaders are willing to stick their
necks out to advance religious freedom because "it's the right thing
to do," and most have resorted to dragging their heels. That said,
ECVN has told us before that at least 200 ECVN congregations have
developed informal modi vivendi with local officials who are either
apathetic about religion or content to let groups do what they want
so long as the Protestants do not call attention to themselves (Ref
B). Many of these groups have opted not to submit applications to
register for fear of upsetting this tolerable, if not entirely
satisfactory, situation.

8. (SBU) This state of affairs is changing as the central government
has brought more pressure, through the Committee on Religious
Affairs (CRA) and the Ministry of Public Security, on local
officials to fully implement the registration policy. The central
government is also slowly raising the costs associated with local

HANOI 00002148 002.2 OF 002


stalling tactics. For example, in a recent provincial leaders'
conference, a former deputy prime minister publicly berated northern
officials for failing to implement the ordinance on religion. This
process appears to be mainly one of negotiation, however, as
provincial officials seem to retain considerable latitude to
interpret national policy even when given strict implementing
instructions.

9. (SBU) One other important development that has raised the costs
for intransigent local officials is the apparent realization among
many of them that it is becoming nearly impossible to keep news of
incidents involving religious groups from reaching outsiders and
hence the international community. Many of the officials have
clearly started to understand that their careers are now threatened
by bad publicity just as they are by "social disorder." This more
than anything else may be decisive in the long run in changing
provincial officials' approach to social issues like religion, but
the full import of this change will take time to sink in across the
institutions of local government. In fact, some areas probably
won't change until more hard-line officials are replaced in the
GVN's normal personnel cycle.

10. (SBU) In sum, we assess that the reason there have been only six
(unconfirmed) registrations in the last 18 months in the north is
that the GVN must first change the official mindset of the region.
The CRA's apparent success to get most provinces to allow
Protestants to worship without much official harassment was the
first major hurtle in this process, but not the last. The process
of registration is actually empowerment of believers in the face of
local officialdom, and most will look for ways to delay this while
the numbers of Protestants remain relatively small. The CRA argues
that once their pilot registrations have been accomplished in Lai
Chau, Lao Cai and Ha Giang (Ref C), the process will pick up steam
across the region, but that remains unproved.

MARINE

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