Cablegate: Harassment of Protestants in Vietnam's Thanh Hoa Province

DE RUEHHI #0944/01 2270832
R 140832Z AUG 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

SUBJECT: Harassment of Protestants in Vietnam's Thanh Hoa Province

Ref: Hanoi 0558

HANOI 00000944 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) Summary: In recent months, post has received reports of
three separate incidents of harassment by local authorities of two
Full Gospel Church congregations in Thanh Hoa Province to the south
of Hanoi. While post has yet to independently confirm the reports,
the sources are reliable and post has a high degree of confidence in
the information. While provincial officials' have indicated that
they would investigate these incidents, post continues to try to
engage provincial and national level officials on these cases.

2. (U) The Full Gospel Church is a Pentacostal denomination not
affiliated with the Protestant Evangelical Church of Vietnam - North
(ECVN). While the Full Gospel Church central office is located in
Ho Chi Minh City, the individual congregations are part of a
National Association of 19 regional groups. Church leaders report
that some congregations have been registered and built churches.

Full Gospel Church Pastor Reports Harassment

3. (SBU) Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, leader of a house church belonging
to the Protestant Full Gospel Church, told poloffthat on April 20,
2008, police in Quang Yen commune of Quang Xuong district issued
administrative punishment to prayer session participants at his
house church in Yen Co village. One week later on April 27, local
police cut the lock on the door of Pastor Ton's house church and
entered, detained members of church, gave out 100,000 VND fines
orally, and confiscated the pension book of one congregation member.
The next day, the commune police returned and threw stones at his
house, and then pushed into house trying to find him. Pastor Ton
reports that the police officers were aggressive and threatening
with both his wife and mother. On Sunday, May 4, local police
reportedly waited at traffic points to try to stop people from
arriving for a prayer session. Only three were able to make it to
Pastor Ton's house. Civil security officials then intervened,
threatened the three attendees and tried to confiscate their

4. (SBU) Pastor Ton reports that while things were quiet for the
rest of May and June, on July 6, 2008, local police and officials
surrounded his house church and locked prayer session participants
inside from 9 am to 2 pm. Three members left the house church at 2
pm and were assaulted 200 meters away from the church. The
assailants allegedly included the local youth association chief and
a local policeman.

5. (SBU) Pastor Ton states that although the church tried to apply
for registration, the commune People's Committee refused to receive
the registration application, stating that the church is not
following the correct procedures. But when he requested the
instructions, the commune People's Committee stated that district
and provincial officials have not supplied them.

6. (SBU) Pastor Ton added that on several occasions during the
incidents in April, he called the provincial police, who promised to
help but then did nothing. He recounted that in December 2007, the
provincial police recommended that he report the congregation's
intention to hold Christmas services to commune authorities in
advance so as to be transparent about their activities. But when he
did so, the commune People's Committee then stated that the
congregation did not have permission to gather for Christmas.
Pastor Ton stated that they now ignore the provincial police's
advice to inform the commune authorities in advance because it makes
no difference.

7. (SBU) A second Full Gospel Church congregation also reported
incidents of harassment in July. Pastor Nguyen Duc Dung of Quang
Linh commune, Quang Xuong district, told us that on July 11, commune
police and officials disrupted a baptism and directed insults at
him. He was then hit in the face by the deputy chief of commune
police. Following this incident, on July 12, commune police
threatened members of the church in an attempt to prevent them from
participating in church activities. Pastor Dung added that he
applied to register his congregation in 2007, but is still awaiting

8. (SBU) In response to the above reports, post sent a letter to
Thanh Hoa provincial authorities on July 16 requesting a full
investigation of these incidents and punishment of any official
found in violation of the legal framework on religion. On July 21,
Pastor Ton reported that the Thanh Hoa provincial police called him,
promising him that they would travel to Quang Xuong district to
investigate the case. However, Pastor Ton has now provided
information on two subsequent incidents:

-- On the morning of July 20, 2008, the chief officer from the local
police and security guards from Yen Phu village, Quang Yen commune,

HANOI 00000944 002.2 OF 002

came to the house of a church member, Mr. Nguyen Van Thinh, and
verbally harassed him and three other members of the church while
they prepared to go to services. Shortly thereafter, Pastor Ton and
his 14-year-old son arrived at Mr. Thinh's house and were assaulted
by local security guards, who were encouraged by the chief of the
local police. Thirty minutes later, a disabled member of the
church, Mr. Do Quang Hoa, arrived at Mr. Thinh' house and was also

-- On the morning on July 29, 2008, two friends of Pastor Ton came
to his home. Thirty minutes later, local policemen and security
guards arrived and surrounded his house until late in the evening.

9. (SBU) As post attempts to get more information from provincial
officials were unsuccessful, we have now sent a letter to the
national Government Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA), formally
requesting their investigation of the situation in Quang Xuong
district of Thanh Hoa Province.

10. (SBU) Comment: The reported incidents are a disappointing step
backward, particularly as Thanh Hoa provincial authorities seemed to
be in line with national government policy on implementing the legal
framework on religion (reftel). The reports of incidents at the
local level, shortly after provincial officials confirmed the full
implementation of the legal framework on religion in Thanh Hoa
province, highlights yet again the disconnect between the various
levels of government bureaucracy in Vietnam. District and commune
officials in this location in Thanh Hoa province are either ignorant
of national level policy and laws, or are willfully disregarding
them, knowing that they will not be punished. Post continues to
press CRA and senior GVN officials to increase their attention and
efforts to fully implement the legal framework on religion.


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