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Cablegate: Chiefs of Mission Discuss Prisoner Lists, Religious/Media

VZCZCXRO7518
PP RUEHHM
DE RUEHHI #0982/01 2380232
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 250232Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8348
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 5052
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 2397

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 000982

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/AWH, AND DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KIRF PREL PGOV CASC OTRA VM

SUBJECT: CHIEFS OF MISSION DISCUSS PRISONER LISTS, RELIGIOUS/MEDIA
FREEDOM, AND AUSTRALIA'S HR DIALOGUE

Ref: Hanoi 662

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Participants at the Ambassador's August 21
luncheon of "like-minded" chiefs of mission agreed that the MFA has
lately been more responsive in providing information about
prisoners. Guests also concurred with the Ambassador's assessment
of religious freedom in the Northwest, noting that while conditions
vary considerably, more could be done to help local officials better
understand the issues. Several expressed concern that whatever the
fate of the two journalists arrested in the wake of the PMU-18
corruption scandal, the main effect would be to discourage
aggressive reporting. Australia's representative previewed her
country's upcoming human rights dialogue, highlighting plans to host
a study tour. The Ambassador urged those present to press Vietnam
to join the Hague Convention on international adoptions. END
SUMMARY.

PRISONER LISTS AND AMNESTY
--------------------------

2. (SBU) On August 21, the Ambassador hosted chiefs of mission of
Western embassies to discuss recent developments in Vietnam's human
rights situation. With less than two weeks remaining before the
GVN's anticipated September 2 National Day amnesty, discussion
focused first on prisoner lists and expected releases. EU
Ambassador Sean Doyle summarized a general sense that while many of
the MFA's responses to requests for information on individual
prisoners on the EU's list remained "stereotyped and repetitive,"
others were more informative, and that overall the Ministry was
becoming increasingly receptive though the group remained skeptical
that this would lead to more prisoners of concern receiving amnesty.
With overlapping lists from the EU, individual countries such as
the United States and Australia, and collectives such as the "Group
of Four" (Canada, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland) -- some
asking for prisoner release, others simply requesting information --
the group agreed to work to coordinate lists and share information
on the GVN's response(s). All agreed on the need to regularly
raise individual cases of concern with the GVN.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN THE NORTHWEST
----------------------------------

3. (SBU) The Ambassador noted that conditions for religious freedom
in the Northwest differ considerably from province to province.
During a recent trip, for example, Embassy officers encountered a
much more positive attitude toward religious groups among local
officials in Dien Bien than in Son La (reftel). Given this
inconsistency -- and the frequent discrepancy between central-level
directives and how those directives are carried out -- the
luncheon's participants agreed that more could be done to reach out
to local officials in the provinces. Canada's CDA Robert Burley
said that the G4 had found a similar range of attitudes and
capacities in its regional visits and cited efforts to work with the
Woman's Union in Dien Bien on issues touching on religious freedom.
German Ambassador Rolf Schulze struck a somewhat discordant note,
pointing to media coverage of a confrontation between Catholic
demonstrators and police in a Hanoi land dispute (septel) as
evidence of a possible crackdown.

PMU-18 AND MEDIA FREEDOM
------------------------

4. (SBU) Several participants expressed apprehension that whatever
the plot twists in the Public Management Unit 18 (PMU-18) corruption
scandal, the immediate impact of the journalists' arrest will be to
inhibit reporting on sensitive topics such as corruption. UK
Ambassador Mark Kent and Norway's CDA Ann-Helen Azedo referred to
draft revisions to Vietnam's press law as a mixed blessing, arguing
that language calling for the Party to strengthen its role in the
media would dilute some of the more positive provisions providing
for greater protection of sources and access to government
information (septel). [Note: The revisions are expected to go to
the National Assembly for approval in October. In the meantime, the
old press law remains in effect.]

AUSTRALIA'S HUMAN RIGHTS DIALOGUE
---------------------------------

5. (SBU) Australian DCM Venessa Wood previewed what Australia
expects will be a "robust dialogue" on the standard range of human
rights issues beginning August 26. After the meeting, the GOA is
sponsoring a study tour for the delegation and a representative from
Vietnam's National Assembly, meeting with parliamentary
subcommittees and Australia's Human Rights Ombudsman.

ADOPTIONS
---------

HANOI 00000982 002 OF 002

6. (SBU) The Ambassador urged the participants to back U.S. efforts
to press Vietnam to join the Hague Convention on International
Adoptions. He noted that GVN attitudes toward the issue of baby
selling had improved, moving from outright denial to more frank
discussion. Recent arrests of individuals allegedly involved in
child trafficking have also been a positive sign. The EU and
Australian representatives voiced broad support. Ambassador Doyle
said that EU legal counsel will discuss the matter and suggested
that the eventual EU consensus position will support the U.S.
stance. Australian DCM Wood said that in its discussions on
adoptions, Australia had also pressed the GVN to join the Hague
Convention.

7. (U) Participants:

U.S. Embassy
Ambassador Michalak
DCM Virginia Palmer
Poloff (notes)

Others
Australia - DCM Ms. Vanessa Wood
Canada - CDA Mr. Robert Burley
Denmark - CDA Ms. Tove Degnbol
EU - Ambassador Sean Doyle
Germany - Ambassador Rolf Schulze
Netherlands - Ambassador Andre Haspels
New Zealand - Ambassador James Kember
Norway - CDA Ms. Ann-Helen Azedo
Switzerland - CDA Ms. Tanja Zangger
Sweden - CDA Marie-Louise Thaning
UK - Ambassador Mark Kent

MICHALAK

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