Cablegate: Uscirf Meetings with Hanoi Archbishop and Ecvn President

DE RUEHHI #1850/01 3020820
R 290820Z OCT 07





E.O. 12958: N/A


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(SBU) On October 22, Commissioners from the United States Commission
on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) discussed the state of
religious freedom and human rights in Vietnam with Hanoi Archbishop
Ngo Quang Kiet and President of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam
North (ECVN) Pastor Phung Quang Huyen. The two religious leaders
said some laws are not clearly written, and local officials with a
weak understanding of the laws interpret them differently. Catholic
leaders do not understand the GVN's Committee on Religious Affairs
(CRA) rejection of two candidates for bishoprics for "family
reasons." International pressure, Vietnam's continuing integration
into the world community and the country's adoption of the legal
framework on religion have helped improve religious conditions
across Vietnam, according to the two. Kiet said Father Nguyen Van
Ly was arrested for his political activities. Regarding imprisoned
Protestant Lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, formerly a member of ECVN, Huyen
said it is the clear position of the ECVN not to get involved in
"political activities," as Dai did. Huyen said over 700
ECVN-affiliated congregation registration applications remain
pending in the North, but even unregistered ECVN congregaQns are
now permitted to operate normally in Vietnam. Government training
manuals that encourage forced renunciations of faith no longer
exist, said Huyen. End Summary.

Meeting with Archbishop

2. (SBU) On October 22, four commissioners of the United States
Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) discussed
religious freedom (RF) and human rights in Vietnam with Hanoi
Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet. The Archbishop said that the RF
situation has improved over the last two years, but that further
progress depends on improving GVN attitudes. He noted that the RF
situation in Vietnam's major cities is better than in rural areas,
citing the problems he and other Hanoi-based clergy have had in
getting permission to travel to Northwest parishes to preside over
religious services and check on the status of church-building

3. (SBU) The Archbishop added that some local officials have a weak
understanding of laws and ordinances on religion, saying that the
central government does not seem to have the will to train these
officials. Furthermore, laws are not clearly written, so local
officials interpret them differently. The RF situation will
continue to be based on how local law enforcement officers feel
about religious groups if the central government, which has
demonstrated the will to extend its writ to provincial areas when it
desires, does not do more to educate these officials.

4. (SBU) Kiet said that the GVN is always watching what the Church
is doing, but does not restrict or prevent it from holding services
or carrying out charitable activities. In "sensitive areas" in the
Northwest, a visible police presence can be seen during Mass, he
said. Moreover, some police from the Ministry of Public Security
from time to time question people around the Archbishop.

5. (SBU) Catholic leaders and laymen do not understand the CRA's
reasons for rejecting two candidates for bishoprics earlier in the
year, the Archbishop said. According to the GVN, one nominee's
sponsor was imprisoned in the past while the other's father had
problems during the agrarian reform era decades ago. In the past,
the GVN looked into everyone's background to determine if someone
was politically suitable for a position, but the Archbishop said he
thought this practice no longer applied. He said he did not
understand why the GVN looked at the nominees' family histories --
instead of their qualifications -- as a basis for making its

6. (SBU) The Archbishop said that international pressure had helped
improve RF conditions across Vietnam. However, most GVN officials
do not see the benefit of allowing more religiously-affiliated
schools and charitable organizations to carry out activities in
Vietnam. The GVN has recognized religious groups because it had to,
not because it wanted to, he added. The Archbishop said the GVN had
repeatedly denied his requests to travel to Ha Giang Province (in
the Northwest) and to build churches in that province.

7. (SBU) Former Ambassador Marine had visited Ha Giang province and
pushed local officials to allow Hanoi-based clergy to visit as well,
the Archbishop continued. Church officials have now been granted
permission to build a church in Ha Giang, but people there are still
looking for a suitable area to build it. In northern Son La and Lai
Chau Provinces, the Hanoi Qchdiocese also has not been allowed to
send priests to preside over mass and oversee construction of new

HANOI 00001850 002.2 OF 003

churches. In Hoa Binh Province (which is in the Hanoi Diocese), the
Archbishop has not been allowed to visit and, in fact, the local
government has replaced a church with a government building.

8. (SBU) To Commissioner Preeta Bansal's question on whether Father
Nguyen Van Ly is a political or religious prisoner, Kiet responded
that "it is fair to say he was arrested for his political activities
such as forming a political party." Ly is the only Catholic leader
that Kiet is aware of who is in prison. On where the Archbishop
draws the line on what is political, not religious, expression, the
Archbishop said that "we do not do things that are against the

9. (SBU) The Archbishop added that the GVN's failure to return
church property remains a problem. Years ago, the GVN seized many
church properties in Hoa Binh Province, but there has been no
progress in getting them back, he added. In Hanoi proper, the GVN
has failed to return church properties near the Ho Chi Minh
Mausoleum and Saint Joseph's Catholic Church.

10. (SBU) For issues the GVN takes a great interest in, it will
dedicate time and resources to training local officials, Kiet
continued. Moreover, sometimes central GVN officials instruct local
officials to make things difficult for the church. Local officials
do not know the laws and sometimes central government leaders can
sway local officials to not allow certain church activities. Kiet
gave no specific examples to support this claim.

11. (SBU) The GVN has granted the Church some leeway in carrying out
educational and health care activities, the Archbishop continued.
The Church operates a kindergarten and schools for disadvantaged
youth. The GVN never officially granted permission for the Church
to carry out many of its charitable activities. This probably is
because officials do not pay attention to or want to impede that
work, he said.

Meeting with ECVN

12. (SBU) USCIRF met separately on October 22 with the President of
the Evangelical Church of Vietnam North (ECVN), Pastor Phung Quang
HuyenQnd ethnic minority Protestant leaders from the Northwest
Highlands. President Huyen, along with two deputies and a handful
of ethnic Hmong and Dzao pastors from Lang Son and other Northern
Vietnamese provinces, described for USCIRF the ECVN's development
since its founding in 1955, interrupted by the war period. The GVN,
they said, has now officially recognized 14 Protestant denominations
in Vietnam and registered 52 of ECVN's congregations nationwide.

13. (SBU) However, over 700 ECVN-affiliated congregation
registration applications remained pending, Huyen continued. Huyen
said that even unregistered ECVN congregations were now permitted to
operate normally in Vietnam. Huyen attributed improvements in the
GVN's tolerance of religious freedom to Vietnam's "reintegration
into the rest of the world" with WTO and Permanent Normal Trade
Relations (PNTR) status, and the adoption in recent years of its new
legal framework on religion.

14. (SBU) President Huyen said there had been "significant
improvements for ECVN" in the last couple of years, citing more
permits to construct churches. However, enforcement of the new
legal framework was still "hit or miss" with many of the new laws
not well interpreted at the local levels and implemented slowly.
Responding to a question from USCIRF about reported government
training manuals for local GVN officials which encouraged forced
renunciations of faith, President Huyen said they "no longer

15. (SBU) Huyen also had not heard of any beatings of Protestant
worshippers since 2006. Rather, Huyen said, the issues he faces are
a lack of awareness and education among local government officials,
as well as among worshippers. He also said the GVN had been alarmed
at the sudden growth of Protestantism in the countryQHuyen's
deputies said missionary work was generally not allowed by
authorities in the North, and many individuals, such as trained
pastors, were limited in their ability to move from one district to
another for purposes of religious instruction. President Huyen said
several GVN internal security issues hindered a greater opening for
Protestant congregations in the North.

16. (SBU) When asked by USCIRF about imprisoned Protestant lawyer
Nguyen Van Dai, formerly a member of ECVN, President Huyen said it
was the clear position of the ECVN not to get involved in "political
activities." He said Dai was part of the pro-democracy Bloc 8406
movement and was "not a religious prisoner." USCIRF raised the
issue of reports of children under age 14 being prevented by

HANOI 00001850 003.2 OF 003

authorities from attending religious services with their parents,
and Protestant youth groups not being allowed to convene. President
Huyen said this policy was "not clear," but he had heard about the
issue, and minors should be allowed to attend religious services.

17. (U) This cable was cleared by Chairman Cromartie.


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