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Cablegate: Religious Leaders Note Positive Trends, Ongoing Issues

VZCZCXRO0276
PP RUEHDT RUEHPB
DE RUEHHM #0844/01 2262111
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P R 142111Z AUG 07
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2984
INFO RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 2110
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 3188

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000844

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREL PGOV KIRF VM
SUBJECT: RELIGIOUS LEADERS NOTE POSITIVE TRENDS, ONGOING ISSUES

HO CHI MIN 00000844 001.2 OF 002


1. (U) Summary. During his farewell trip to Ho Chi Minh City
August 5-8, Ambassador Marine had a series of meetings with
religious leaders, including Catholic Cardinal Pham Minh Man,
the leaders of the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam
(SECV), and leaders of several house church groups, to discuss
the current state of religious freedom in Vietnam. Religious
leaders presented a generally positive picture of conditions for
their followers, but noted that recognition and registration
issues remain in some areas where officials were not familiar
with the new legal framework on religion. At each meeting, the
Ambassador affirmed USG support for religious freedom has not
diminished since Vietnam's removal from the list of Countries of
Particular Concern (CPC) late last year and noted our continued
willingness to follow up with the GVN on specific issues
religious groups are facing as they arise. End Summary.

CARDINAL MAN ON POLITICS OF RELIGION
------------------------------------

2. (SBU) During their August 7 meeting, Cardinal Man told
Ambassador Marine conditions for the Catholic Church have been
generally positive since the new legal framework on religion was
introduced in 2004, noting the Diocese no longer needed advance
permission to ordain priests. The biggest issue their
seminaries face is finding enough teachers for all the new
seminarians. Man said the Church continues to press the GVN for
return of confiscated properties with little success.
Ambassador Marine said the return of church properties was an
ongoing dialogue many religious groups were having with the GVN,
and while the United States Mission would continue to raise the
issue on the Church's behalf, resolution was a long-term
prospect.

3. (SBU) Cardinal Man said regional politics were at play in
the GVN's recent rejection of two candidates for Bishop
positions, noting he had heard some individuals in both the GVN
and in northern Dioceses of the Catholic Church did not want to
see "too many Southerners" in key posts. On GVN-Vatican
relations, Man said a formal relationship seemed to be far away
due to reluctance on both sides to move things forward too
quickly.

4. (SBU) The Ambassador raised the issue of President Nguyen
Minh Triet's interview with CNN during his visit to the United
States, noting Vietnamese newspapers had quoted Triet as saying
that the Vietnam Bishops' Council and the Vatican were in
agreement with the GVN position that the trial of dissident
priest, Father Nguyen Van Ly, was not a religious matter. Man
said he had refuted the President's claim in an article that was
posted on an overseas Catholic news website, adding that the
Chairman of Bishops' Council had also written a letter to
President Triet voicing the Council's disagreement with Triet's
comments to the press.

5. (SBU) The Ambassador said that while he was pleased that the
GVN appears to have accepted a greater role for religious
organizations in performing charitable and humanitarian work, he
understood the Church is still having trouble getting Catholic
NGOs licensed to carry out HIV/AIDS and orphan-related work in
Ho Chi Minh City. Man replied that while the Church was
recently able to purchase land to open a center just outside Ho
Chi Minh City, its application for NGO status was still pending.
In parting, Ambassador Marine renewed Mission Vietnam's offer
to take up the Church's issues with the GVN if desired and
encouraged the Catholic Church to engage with the GVN on
upcoming revisions to the legal framework on religion.

PROTESTANT LEADERS GENERALLY OPTIMISTIC
----------------------------------------

6. (SBU) On August 6 and 7, Ambassador Marine paid two separate
calls on leaders of the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam
(SECV) and a group of Protestant house church representatives
(including branches of the Baptist, Seventh Day Adventists,
Mennonites, Vietnam Good News Mission, United Gospel Outreach
Church, and Assembly of God).

7. (SBU) In both meetings, Protestant leaders said that the
vast majority of their congregations have no difficulty
practicing their faith. In places where they have successfully
registered churches, they experience little or no GVN
interference with their religious activities. Churches that
routinely provided local authorities with detailed information
about members and meetings also seemed to experience fewer
issues than those who did not. House church leaders echoed the
sentiments of the Catholic Church and said that although
conditions are generally improving, they have ongoing
difficulties getting the GVN to return seized properties and
problems registering new meeting points in areas where local
officials were not familiar with the new legal framework on
religion. Several house church leaders noted that in remote

HO CHI MIN 00000844 002.2 OF 002


areas of the Central Highlands and Mekong Delta, local
authorities sometimes claim no knowledge of the
recognition/registration process, often refusing to even
acknowledge receipt of a congregation's application. In these
areas, church leaders also reported more incidents of police
harassment and disbandment of gatherings. Many leaders also
commented that tensions with authorities increase in areas where
there are higher numbers of ethnic minorities.

8. (SBU) In contrast to the generally positive picture
portrayed by most house church pastors, Pastor Nguyen Ngoc Hien
(aka Pastor Henry) of Vietnam Baptist Fellowship Church (VBFC)
said he and his followers have been experiencing steady
interference and harassment from GVN authorities ever since he
criticized GVN treatment of Protestants during his meeting with
Secretary Rice in Hanoi last November. Since then, Pastor Henry

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said authorities have asked for detailed reports regarding his
visits with Baptist groups in Cambodia, confiscated his passport
and have tried to take him to court for his alleged involvement
in a land rights dispute. Pastor Henry said his congregations
have reported being pressured by police to provide detailed
information on members and their financial holdings.
Congregations that resist have had their meetings broken up and
Bibles confiscated. Pastor Henry said he has reported specific
incidents to the Public Security Bureau, but has received no
resolution. Ambassador Marine expressed his sympathy and
assured Pastor Henry that the United States Mission would raise
his case with GVN once he provides detailed documentation of the
incidents of harassment.

9. (SBU) The Ambassador expressed his appreciation for the
leaders' frank and honest feedback and said the United States
Mission would be happy to raise specific issues and incidents
with the central and provincial GVN authorities if the churches
so desired. He asked that churches provide detailed information
to us for follow up. The Ambassador also encouraged Protestant
leaders to develop a regular dialogue on the religious
recognition/registration process with the GVN, perhaps through
quarterly correspondence or meetings with GVN's Committees on
Religious Activities, both on the national and provincial levels.

10. (SBU) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi and
cleared by Ambassador Marine.
FAIRFAX

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