Cablegate: Uscirf Meeting with Vice Minister of Public Security Nguyen

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1. (SBU) Summary: On October 23, members of the United States
Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) met with GVN
Vice Minister of Public Security (MPS) Nguyen Van Huong. Members
asked Huong about the registration of Protestant organizations,
establishing independent Buddhist religious organizations in
Vietnam, and police training on human rights as well as individual
cases. Huong agreed to allow access for the group to a prison to
visit two prisoners of concern to USCIRF. End summary.

2.(SBU) On October 23, Nguyen Van Huong welcomed the USCIRF
delegation to the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) for a meeting
scheduled to last one hour, but which lasted two. He also hosted
the delegation to lunch. Huong opened the meeting by noting the
issue of religious freedom is regularly discussed between Vietnam
and the United States. MPS is not made up of specialists on
religious freedom so it welcomes USCIRF's interest. USCIRF Chairman
Michael Cromartie noted that religious freedom was not solely a
"U.S. idea," and that it existed in covenants of international law
to which he hoped Vietnam would deepen its commitment, as it
prepares to join the UN Security Council. He said he was interested
in examining whether recent arrests of dissidents will derail
progress on religious freedom, noting that "progress overall" had
stalled recently. He then gave the floor to his four commissioner
colleagues in turn.

3.(SBU) Commissioner Preeta Bansal asked about the prospects for
registering Buddhist sects to make them independent of the national
Buddhist association, the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS). In reply,
Huong noted that in 1981 the Buddhist community in Vietnam had
decided to unite, but that some leaders were unsatisfied with the
positions they received in the new organization. Huong said that
Khmer Buddhists identified by some as "religious prisoners" had
broken various laws, but added that USCIRF was free to meet with
those directly involved and hear their stories when in the south.
Bansal, noting that Huong had said at one point that "lawbreakers
would be arrested," asked Huong point blank whether he was planning
to arrest members of the UBCV. Huong said he has no such plans.

4.(SBU) Bansal noted that Vice Minister Huong had played a key role
in opening up the Central Highlands for greater religious freedom,
and asked whether he would help with the recognition of more than
one Buddhist group if that were desired. Huong responded that under
Vietnamese law there can only be one body for each religion. In the
case of Protestantism there are many different churches and those
are all recognized, but the GVN will not recognize more than one
body for each religion or sect. He did not clarify, however, in
what way Protestantism differed from Buddhism with regard to a
national coordinating body.

5.(SBU) USCIRF Commissioner Felice Gaer noted allegations of abuse,
including beating deaths, and asked Huong to accept lists of USCIRF
persons of concern. Huong agreed to accept the lists. Gaer asked
for help in facilitating visits to persons detained and their
release, mentioning jailed human rights lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and
Le Thi Cong Nhan. She further asked for an independent government
body to be set up to look into abuse allegations, and inquired about
training for police.

6.(SBU) Huong responded that Vietnam does not believe in or condone
any kind of torture and that the abuse of authority was illegal and
would be punished. He welcomed information on allegations, and said
many GVN officials had been punished for misconduct. Not every case
is made public, Huong said, but if the Commission was interested he
could provide a list.

7.(SBU) Huong stated that Dai and Nhan were arrested not for
expressing their political views, something that is done all the
time in Vietnam's newspapers and not considered criminal. Rather,
the two have been jailed for organizing resistance to the government
beyond mere expressions of opinion. He said the appeal trials of
Dai, Nhan and dissident Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly would be held
"in the near future," and that they would have good lawyers. He
also said they potentially could benefit from amnesty or sentence
reductions in the future if their convictions were upheld. He said
he did not have the precise date of the appeal hearing, but that
diplomats will be invited to attend. Huong said he was open to the
idea of establishing a mechanism to review abuse allegations of law
enforcement officials.

8.(SBU) Commissioner Donald Argue asked why prison authorities
refuse to allow Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan to have Bibles
and medicine from their families and why their appeal trials had
been postponed beyond the statutory 90 days after the initial trial.
He reiterated the request to visit the two in prison. Huong said
that the Bibles and medicine were no problem and said he could
facilitate a visit to the prison for the USCIRF delegation. He

HANOI 00001852 002.2 OF 002

also asked when the USCIRF delegation would be available to visit
the prison. Argue concluded by stating that he recognized that
there has been much progress in Vietnam over recent years, not
addressing Huong's query.

9.(SBU) Commissioner Imam Talal Y. Eid asked about the training of
police with regard to upholding religious freedom and human rights,
and whether international experts would be welcome to improve such
training. Huong said a nation-wide round of training for local
police officials had taken place and that short-term human rights
training was part of the basic police course. Denmark has been
particularly active in training Vietnamese police on human rights
issues, Huong said, and he would be prepared to send officers to a
human rights training course at the International Law Enforcement
Academy (ILEA) in Bangkok. Commissioner Eid also asked to see the
police training manuals regarding human rights, which Huong

10.(SBU) At several points during the meeting, Huong reiterated that
the GVN wished the delegation to meet and speak with a range of
persons in Vietnam, and that he hoped the group would come to hold a
"balanced" picture of advances in religious freedom. In this vein,
he underscored that the group was free to meet with whomever it
wished. As the meeting ended, Huong clarified his earlier comment,
asking if the group wanted to visit Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong
Nhan in prison that afternoon. The USCIRF Commissioners all
responded positively. The group visited the two prisoners, outside
Hanoi, later that day (septel).

11. (U) This message was cleared with USCIRF Chairman Cromartie.


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