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Cablegate: Hcmc Licenses 25 House Churches

VZCZCXRO4173
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT
DE RUEHHM #1197 2921138
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 191138Z OCT 06
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1638
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 1156
RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 1725

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 001197

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KIRF PGOV VM
SUBJECT: HCMC LICENSES 25 HOUSE CHURCHES

1. (U) The Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) Committee for Religious
Affairs (CRA) October 17 announced that by the end of October,
25 Protestant house church congregations will be registered to
operate in the city. Some of the licenses will be handed out in
ceremonies that will be held October 20 and 24. According to
the CRA, these licenses will enable members of the congregations
to gather, pray, hold services, and study the Bible at their
places of worship. The CRA said that more congregations,
including one belonging to the Mormon Church, are now filling
out registration applications for the next round of licensing,
the date of which is yet to be announced.

2. (SBU) Our CRA contact told us that local operation licenses
would be granted directly to the house churches by People's
Committees at the ward and district levels. He acknowledged
that HCMC is the first place in Vietnam to issue such licenses
and added that the process will continue as soon as more house
churches complete registration applications. The contact said
that local registration of congregations was required before the
GVN would consider registering churches at the national level.
(Note: National registration of churches would legalize such
church activities as the appointment of clergy, the gathering of
multiple congregations, training programs, and international
exchanges. End Note.) The CRA official said local licensing
would help the GVN monitor house church activities and
properties, and would aid in the national registration process.

3. (U) The 25 congregations to be granted licenses belong to the
following 21 denominations:

Israel Church
Vietnam Baptist Fellowship
Trung Tin Baptist Church
Jehovah's Witness Church
Agape Outreach Church
Baptist Evangelistic League of Vietnam
Trinity Baptist Church
Outreach to Asia Nationals
Vietnam Baptist Convention
Church of God
Vietnamese Outreach Church
Timothy Gospel Church
Chinese House Church
Grace Baptist Church
Revival Ecclesia Mission
Vietnam More Than Conqueror Church
Jerusalem Church
Burning Bush Gospel Church
Emmanuel Church
Heaven Blessing Church
Church of God International

4. (SBU) Pastor Pham Dinh Nhan, Chairman of the Vietnam
Evangelical Fellowship (VEF), an umbrella organization of house
churches in southern Vietnam, told us he thought the HCMC
licensing showed a "more open attitude" towards Protestant house
churches. Although Pastor Nhan had earlier demanded that house
churches with activities in many provinces only be obligated to
register at the national level, some VEF house churches in HCMC
are among those that will receive licenses. Pastor Nhan said
this move by the HCMC CRA would encourage more VEF churches to
apply for local licenses. Pastor Nhan remains concerned,
however, about the licensing procedures being followed in other
provinces, which require congregations to submit lists of
members as part of the application process. He said such lists
could be used by police to harass churchgoers.

5. (SBU) Pastor Nguyen Ngoc Hien (also known as Pastor Henry) of
the Vietnam Baptist Fellowship said the licensing is a step the
GVN should have taken "a long time ago." Pastor Hien shared
Pastor Nhan's concern regarding the requirement of some
provinces to submit lists of church members as part of the
application process. Pastor Hien noted that HCMC authorities
did not have the same requirement, and that the Southern
Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV) did not have to submit the
names of its followers when it was recognized several years ago.

6. (SBU) Comment: The licensing of these 25 congregations is a
significant and encouraging development for Protestant house
churches in HCMC. Also significant is the positive response
from house church leaders like Pastor Nhan, who in the past have
been reluctant to work with Vietnamese authorities. The fact
that more VEF house churches plan to apply for licenses
represents a real step forward in relations between the churches
and government. Challenges remain, however, including whether
other provinces will follow HCMC's lead, whether those provinces
will continue to insist on lists of names, and whether such
lists, if submitted, will be used against churchgoers.

WINNICK

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