Cablegate: Uscirf in Hcmc: Meeting the Hoa Hao

DE RUEHHM #1239/01 3481059
P 141059Z DEC 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

HO CHI MIN 00001239 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The meeting between members of the U.S.
Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and a
group of Hoa Hao followers revealed the group's deep suspicions
of the GVN and its policies on religion -- suspicions that have
been fueled by the appointment of an official, GVN-sanctioned
Hoa Hao Executive Council. Hoa Hao members at this meeting
alternately denied that an imprisoned member encouraged others
to commit suicide by self-immolation and asserted that
self-immolation was a traditional form of Buddhist protest; they
denied that an imprisoned member deliberately threw gasoline on
a GVN official. The Hoa Hao members complained that religious
freedom is moving too slowly in Vietnam and that properties
confiscated after 1975 are not being returned. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Commissioners Cromartie, Bansal, Argue, Gaer, Eid and
Leo met with Hoa Hao Elder Tran Huu Duyen and Hoa Hao members
Truong Van Thuc, Nguyen Van Lia and Vo Van Diem (younger brother
of imprisoned Hoa hao follower Vo Van Thanh Liem) on October 26,
2007. The Hoa Hao members presented a negative view of
situation for the unrecognized Hoa Hao sect to which they below
and condemned the GVN-recognized Hoa Hao Executive Council.
They listed several cases of persecution by GVN and commented
that religious freedom improvement in Vietnam is too slow. They
also seek international pressure on the GVN to release fourteen
jailed Hoa Hao followers, whom they believe to have been
unjustly incarcerated.

3. (SBU) The Hoa Hao followers spoke of decades of persecution
and confiscation of properties since 1975 by the GVN. They
accused GVN of carrying out unlawful arrests and detentions
using violence and carrying out discriminatory measures against
the Hoa Hao true believers. Both Nguyen Van Lia and Truong Van
Thuc blasted religious freedom progress in Vietnam as "too
slow," adding that true Hoa Hao believers do not view the
GVN-sanctioned Hoa Hao Executive Council as the democratically
elected representative of Hoa Hao Buddhism as a whole. Lia,
Diem and Thuc said that the GVN put its own people into the
Executive Council, severely compromising its independence.
Nguyen Van Lia handed the commissioners a postcard photo of a
building that used to be the Hoa Hao's library in An Giang
province. This building, according to Lia, was confiscated in
1975 and turned into a bank, which was eventually torn down
without a court order during a redevelopment project in 2007.
Lia said that while many Hoa Hao followers felt frustrated and
tried to protest, the GVN-sanctioned Hoa Hao Executive Council
remained passive in the face of this GVN decision.

4. (SBU) The three Hoa Hao believers specifically raised the
case of Vo Van Thanh Liem, who was imprisoned for "attempted
assault" during an incident in 2005. According to Liem's brother
Vo Van Diem, Liem is a peaceful man who "never killed an ant"
and devoted his life to the development of religious works.
Diem said that during the incident in 2005, Liem was pouring
gasoline over himself when police tried to stop him and several
others from reconstructing his home-temple gate. They went on
to state that some of the gasoline "splashed" on a nearby GVN
official, who suffered no injury. (Note: The GVN strongly
contests this version of events and maintains that Liem
deliberately threw gasoline on an official who was attempting to
stop suicide attempts. In September 2005, Liem was sentenced to
7 years of imprisonment for attempting to injure others. In the
same incident that led to Liem's arrest, two other Hoa Hao
followers doused themselves with gasoline and set themselves
alight; one died of his burns. End note.) Diem referred to the
incident as a "set-up" by GVN to provoke the Hoa Hao believers
into extreme actions, noting that the electricity and water
supply for the home-temple had been cut off a few days earlier.

5. (SBU) Commissioners asked the Hoa Hao members' view on Le
Quang Liem-another leader of one of the Hoa Hao groups-to
confirm whether he encouraged his own followers to self-immolate
as accused by the GVN. The Hoa Hao members said that although
Le Quang Liem started out with peaceful protest, he was soon
forced into using self-immolation as a means of protest after
severe persecution by GVN. While they did not agree that Liem
encouraged followers to burn themselves, they did state that
self-immolation has been a traditional way of protest for
Buddhists. Commissioner Gaer asked the Hoa Hao members that
there was an official law in Vietnam that bans self-immolation;
they replied that there is not. (Note: Suicide is illegal in
Vietnam, as in most countries. End Note.)

6. (SBU) In response to questions from USCIRF concerning
incidents of reported persecution, the Hoa Hao members cited
several the following cases: 6 Hoa Hao monks sentenced to jail
terms for peaceful demonstration (May 2006); two Hoa Hao members
attempted self-immolation (Note: one died; one was seriously
injured and later imprisoned in August 2006. There appears to be
come confusion between this case and one in August 2005. End

HO CHI MIN 00001239 002.2 OF 002

note); four Hoa Hao members arrested after a hunger strike (May
2007); and a beating at the death anniversary of a
self-immolated follower (August 2007). The Hoa Hao members
handed appeal letters from the families of 14 Hoa Hao prisoners
to the CIRF Commissioners and called for pressure on GVN to
release them.

7. (SBU) While Lia, Diem and Thuc actively participated in
exchanges with the CIRF Commissioners, Elder Tran Huu Duyen was
largely silent and showed no opinion at the meeting. Lia, Diem,
and Thuc also reported that police came to see them before they
traveled from An Giang province to HCMC for the meeting.
Policemen also sat in the hotel lobby during the meeting and
followed the Hoa Hao members afterwards. At the end of the
meeting, some of the commissioners gave the Hoa Hao members some
money to cover their travel costs.

8. (SBU) With several members of this particular Hoa Hao sect in
jail and in light of the ongoing dispute over confiscated
properties, the group's distrust of the GVN is understandable.
At the same time, the specific incidents of GVN persecution
cited by the Hoa Hao members generally appear to be linked to
attempts by the GVN to prevent Hoa Hao members from committing
suicide by self-immolation. End comment.

© Scoop Media

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