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Cablegate: Uscirf Meeting with Vietnam's Committee On Religious

VZCZCXRO3694
RR RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHHI #2040/01 3390159
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 050159Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6826
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 4017
RUEHZS/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN 0036

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 002040

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/IRF, DRL/AWH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KIRF VM
SUBJECT: USCIRF MEETING WITH VIETNAM'S COMMITTEE ON RELIGIOUS
AFFAIRS

HANOI 00002040 001.2 OF 002


Summary
-------

1.(SBU) Visiting Commissioners from the United States Commission on
International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) discussed religious freedom
with Committee on Religious Affairs Chairman Nguyen The Doanh on
October 22. Doanh pointed to significant progress made on religious
freedom in Vietnam as a result of the Prime Minister's 2005
Directive on Religion. He acknowledged there is more to be done,
particularly in training local officials and in registering house
churches more quickly. He offered to investigate any reports of
forced renunciations, which he said are clearly against the law and
policy of Vietnam. End summary.

2.(SBU) Doanh began the meeting by noting that one could find
shortcomings in Vietnam's religious situation but that it was
important to have a dialogue and share ideas. If the delegation
sees the Buddhist pagodas overflowing with believers during the
first and fifteenth of every lunar month, USCIRF members would get a
better sense of the importance of religion in Vietnamese life, Doanh
said.

3.(SBU) USCIRF Chairman Michael Cromartie thanked Doanh for the work
of CRA and said the USCIRF delegation was following up on agreement
in the June meeting of Presidents Bush and Triet to continue a
dialogue on religious freedom. Cromartie said almost 600 Hmong
Protestant churches in the northwest had sought registration but
only 50 had received official recognition. Hundreds of southern
Protestant house churches had seen their requests for recognition
unanswered or denied.

4.(SBU) Doanh responded that the Prime Minister issued a directive
on registration of religions in localities on February 9, 2005. Now
in the Central Highlands there are around 1,000 recognized meetings
points and, by the end of the year, there will be 100 in the
Northwest. Vietnam has many religions but pays close attention to
the Protestants because there are so many denominations, Doanh said.
The number of Protestants in Vietnam is on the rise particularly in
mountainous areas with poor communications so there are shortcomings
in the relations between local churches and authorities as well as
the response by the local authorities to national guidance.

5.(SBU) Cromartie asked if house churches could continue their
activities if the local People's Committee did not respond to their
requests for registration within the stipulated 30 days. Doanh
responded that, in theory, if there is no response the churches
should have the right to continue their activities normally.

6.(SBU) Commissioner Preeta Bansal asked whether the GVN's openness
to recognizing different sects of Protestantism also extended to
Buddhists organizing independently of the national Vietnam Buddhist
Sangha (VBS). Doanh responded that the VBS was established in 1981
in accordance with the wishes of Vietnam's Buddhists and that their
nine denominations are represented, including the United Buddhist
Church of Vietnam. Doanh said in theory other independent Buddhist
groups could be recognized, but it would depend on the structure and
goals of the organizations.

7.(SBU) Commissioner Felice Gaer asked about a GVN training manual
saying that abnormally rapid conversions must be "subdued." This
was supposed to be revised and Gaer asked if this had been done.
Doanh said the manual still has many shortcomings but it has been
revised. Several thousand local-level officials have been trained
regarding religious activities.

8.(SBU) Commissioner Don Argue noted he had been to Vietnam three
years ago and that the progress made on religious freedom in that
time was very encouraging. He said the Prime Minister's directive
had helped but there were still isolated reports of forced
renunciations by police. Doanh responded that the GVN is strongly
opposed to any violence to renounce faith - this is not in
accordance with GVN policy or laws. If any such cases are reported,
CRA will work closely with local authorities to address them. The
Prime Minister's directive must be implemented at all levels, and
meetings and conferences are organized to explain it, with special
training for local police. CRA does not have branches at the local
level, but the police do so they have a special obligation to
implement the law.

9.(SBU) Commissioner Argue said he had direct contacts with
Protestant groups in Vietnam and that they were very pleased with
this progress - they only want to practice religion, not be
political spokespeople. Their frustration is the slow pace of
registration and inconsistency in how this is carried out in
different provinces. Doanh agreed that this was an issue, and said
improving the situation was a gradual process.


HANOI 00002040 002.2 OF 002


10.(SBU) Commissioner Gaer said there are credible reports that
local officials deny educational and medical benefits to converts
and asked whether this was endorsed by CRA. Doanh responded that
CRA is tasked with working out the body of laws on religion and that
all are equal under the law. There may be cases where there is
discrimination, but if the CRA is apprised of the facts, then it
would strongly oppose such discrimination. He asked USCIRF to
provide detailed information on these allegations so CRA could
investigate.

11.(SBU) Commissioner Gaer asked whether the changes in Vietnam on
religious freedom were the result of international pressure. Doanh
said Vietnam pays attention to the views of the international
community but decisions for the Vietnamese people must be made by
the Vietnamese people. Vietnam's social and economic achievements
over the past twenty years have laid a solid basis for changes in
spiritual life.

12.(SBU) Doanh noted he had worked for CRA for 27 years and that
with recent progress he had never seen a better state of religious
freedom in Vietnam. He said that of course he is not completely
satisfied with GVN policy - life changes quickly so the policy must
be updated to reflect those changes. He cited Ho Chi Minh's
statement that the state must help its people have a good life both
materially and spiritually.

Michalak

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