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Cablegate: Uscirf in Hcmc: Meeting the Dissidents

VZCZCXRO1461
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #1229/01 3480233
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 140233Z DEC 07
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3435
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 2355
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 3654

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 001229

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

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

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL KIRF VM
SUBJECT: USCIRF IN HCMC: MEETING THE DISSIDENTS


HO CHI MIN 00001229 001.2 OF 002


Summary
-------
1. (SBU) The USCIRF delegation met with Do Nam Hai and Dr.
Nguyen Dan Que to discuss the human rights situation in Vietnam.
Both discussed the state of the democracy movement in Vietnam,
the challenges facing democracy activists today (e.g.,
surveillance, harassment and arrest), and their belief that
democracy and religious freedom are mutually reinforcing goals
that bring together political and religious dissidents. Both
Que and Hai placed religious freedom within the framework of
human rights and democracy, but demurred when asked by USCIRF to
comment on whether certain figures were religious vs. political
prisoners. While Hai had no problems meeting the delegation at
the New World Hotel on October 24, Dr. Que declined to attend
due to increased police presence outside his residence. The
delegation was able to meet Que the next evening at his
residence without difficulties. End Summary.

Hai Cites Press Reports to Laud Commission's Visit
--------------------------------------------- -----
2. (SBU) Do Nam Hai thanked the Commission for its trip to
Vietnam, calling international pressure necessary for the
development of rights in Vietnam. Hai handed over
Vietnamese-language newspaper (Thanh Nien) accounts of the
Commission's meetings Hanoi, highlighting Commissioner Gaer's
request to Deputy Minister of Public Security: carry out
investigations of violations of religious freedom, free those
arrested for peacefully expressing their political views, and
create a mechanism to prevent future abuses. Hai applauded the
approach as well as news that MPS allowed the Commissioners to
visit jailed dissidents Le Thi Cong Nhan and Nguyen Van Dai in
prison.

The Cost of Ignoring Human Rights
---------------------------------
3. (SBU) While the GVN says there are no political or religious
prisoners but only lawbreakers, Hai insisted that there are
political prisoners arrested for peacefully expressing their
political views. Nhan and Dai are certainly political
prisoners, he stated, adding that there are others like Nguyen
Dang Que, though not currently in jail, who are being monitored
and harassed. Hai said that since he wrote an article in 2002
calling for a referendum on multiparty democracy he has been
monitored constantly; currently four shifts of three security
personnel watch him around the clock. He estimated the GVN cost
of his personal surveillance at six thousand U.S. dollars per
month, or "one hundred times Vietnam's average salary of $60."
He cited land protester Liu Thi Thu Dung (NFI) as another
example of a dissident who is not allowed to leave the area
around her home. (Note: Several activists have called GVN
surveillance and monitoring of their communications a form of
"virtual house arrest," and noted the chilling effect it has had
on the democracy movement over the past year. End note.)

4. (SBU) He recounted the development of Bloc 8406 and their
internet publication of their democracy manifesto in April 2006.
He went on to state that once the GVN had achieved its APEC and
WTO goals (in early 2007), there was a crackdown on dissidents
so "fearsome" that Human Rights Watch called it the worst in
twenty years. He added that those harassed, detained and
arrested are patriots who believe that Vietnam needs human
rights before it can develop economically -- without human
rights, excessive power concentrated in a small group of leaders
allows them to misappropriate assistance, capital and technology
for their own advantage. WTO and UNSC are good elements of
development but not enough and "Vietnamese intellectuals must
voice the pain of the nation," Hai said.

Tentative on Religious Prisoners, But Hopeful
---------------------------------------------
5. (SBU) When Commissioners asked Hai to explain the role that
religious leaders played in Bloc 8406, he responded that
religious freedom can help to advance political freedom and that
political freedom ensures religious freedom, adding cryptically
"the concepts can be different or the same." Another pressed
Hai on whether Nhan and Dai were religious prisoners as well as
political prisoners, and Hai replied that he did not know the
details of their cases and could not say. A third noted that
Hai had spoken generally of political and religious prisoners
then asked for examples of religious prisoners; Hai instead
offered Father Nguyen Van Ly as an example of someone who is a
political prisoner and a religious figure.

6. (SBU) In response to a question from Commissioner Gaer, Hai
said that democracy advocates do have support in Vietnam's
universities. Hai said "the fear of being repressed" is waning
in Vietnam and as this continues more will be joining together
to fight for freedom and democracy. Hai remains unbowed by his
treatment, remembering that it took twelve years for Vaclav

HO CHI MIN 00001229 002.2 OF 002


Havel's 1977 Charter 77 to bear fruit in 1989.

Dr. Que on Politics and Religion
----------------------------
7. (SBU) Dr. Nguyen Dang Que, who was also scheduled to meet the
delegation at the New World on the 25th, sent his son to explain
he did not feel comfortable attending due to heavy police
presence around his house, but invited the USCIRF to see him at
home, which they did the next evening. When the delegation
arrived, no surveillance units were evident outside Dr. Que's
home and the meeting proceeded without interruptions. Dr. Que
also spoke about his own experiences with the democracy movement
and noted that while activists are not comfortable meeting
openly, all groups and individuals are continuing to operate on
their own to advance human rights and democracy in Vietnam. He
cited the land rights movement as evidence of growing social
unrest as a result of the GVN's "morally bankrupt" policies and
his belief that economic factors, such as Vietnam's membership
in the WTO and the growing middle class in urban centers, will
continue to provide pressure for change in all arenas.

8. (SBU) When asked by Commissioners whether he made
distinctions between religious vs. political activists, Que said
that in some cases, politics and religion could not be
separated. Dr. Que felt the GVN's Ordinance on Religion was
also a form of government control, as it required churches to
register and request permission for certain activities like
choosing leaders and printing religious materials. Using
"demagogic tricks," Que said, the GVN has isolated "stubborn
spiritual leaders" like Father Ly, Central Highlands Pastor
Nguyen Cong Chinh and the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam
(UBCV)'s Thich Quang Do through imprisonment, monitoring and
house arrest.

Que's Joint Communique
----------------------
9. (SBU) Dr. Que cited religious freedom and the release of
religious and political prisoners as one of key items on his
democracy agenda. He asked whether the delegation would be
willing to co-sign a Joint Communique which he had prepared,
which included as one of its points "...The Vietnamese
government continues to persecute its citizens for the
non-violent practice of faith, free speech, free press and
democratic values, including continuous arrests, detention and
harassment of members of UBCV, the Catholic Church, the
Protestant Church, the Hoa Hao, the Cao Dai, and many other
individuals who call for democracy and freedom in Vietnam"

10. (SBU) The Communique, which would be co-signed by USCIRF and
Que's group, the Non-Violent Movement for Human Rights in
Vietnam (Cao Trao Nhan Ban), called on the Vietnamese government
to release religious leaders, dismantle "all forms" of control
over religion, implement UN principles on religious freedom and
guarantee the equal treatment for all religions, including the
UBCV and Montagnard Protestants. The USCIRF delegation said
while they agreed with all of the principles and GVN actions
called for in the Communique, they could not sign without
consulting with USCIRF headquarters. They offered to take the
Communique back for review.

Comment:
--------
11. (SBU) Do Nam Hai presented a spirited case on behalf of
Vietnam's democracy advocates but tempered his responses when
Commissioners pressed him on religious freedom. Que spoke
broadly about the need for more democracy and freedom in
Vietnam, including religious freedom, and did not make a
distinction between those in jail for religious or political
activism. Both dissidents agreed that conditions for
pro-democracy activists have deteriorated over the past year,
but feel political change in Vietnam will be inevitable. The
question, as always, is timing. End comment.
FAIRFAX

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