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Cablegate: Ambassador Meets Imprisoned Dissidents Nguyen Van Dai And

VZCZCXRO9089
OO RUEHHM
DE RUEHHI #1144/01 2800925
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 060925Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8577
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 5195

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 001144

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL

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

SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR MEETS IMPRISONED DISSIDENTS NGUYEN VAN DAI AND
LE THI CONG NHAN

Reftel: Hanoi 286

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The Ambassador met with two of Vietnam's most
prominent political prisoners, dissident attorneys Nguyen Van Dai
and Le Thi Cong Nhan, on October 2 and 3 respectively. Both
appeared healthy and described prison conditions not out of keeping
with the norm in Vietnam. Dai was in reasonably good spirits and
said that he occupies his days with Bible study and English classes.
Nhan, by contrast, voiced dissatisfaction with her living quarters,
food, and housekeeping responsibilities; however, she acknowledged
that she was treated the same as other prisoners. She has a Bible
and is able to pray freely. Characteristically defiant, Nhan
refuses to acknowledge guilt or to profess love of the Communist
Party. Speaking with prison officials before meeting Dai, the
Ambassador reiterated U.S. interest in the well-being of Dai's
fellow prisoner Father Nguyen Van Ly. END SUMMARY.

Nguyen Van Dai
--------------

2. (SBU) On October 2, the Ambassador visited Ba Sao Prison, a
3,000-inmate minimum security facility nestled in the karst hills of
Ha Nam province, to meet human rights attorney and Bloc 8406
activist Nguyen Van Dai. Dai appeared fit and responded to
questions clearly and articulately. Although conducted in the
presence of Prison Commander Duong Duc Thang and his deputies, the
45-minute meeting was relatively informal. Thang insisted that Dai
communicate in Vietnamese, but otherwise did not interject.

3. (SBU) Dai reported that he lives with 57 other prisoners in a
two-level dormitory-style ward and is treated no differently than
other prisoners. He said that he rises at 5:30 am and occupies his
free time with Bible study -- using the Bible that was given to him
by the visiting USCIRF delegation in October 2007 -- and
English-language classes. Dai said that he initially took part in
the camp's "production activities," but was given permission to stop
after his allergies flared up. He said that, as with other
prisoners, he is allowed monthly visits by family, who provide him
with imported medication to treat his allergies and health
complications connected with an earlier bout of Hepatitis B. Dai
affirmed that otherwise he is in good health and exercises
regularly.

4. (SBU) Following the meeting, the Ambassador inquired about
Father Nguyen Van Ly, another prominent member of Bloc 8406, whom
the Ambassador met at Ba Sao prison in March (reftel). Smiling,
Thang responded that while Father Ly is "not an ideal prisoner," he
remains in good health and continues to voice his opinions
strenuously.

Le Thi Cong Nhan
----------------

5. (SBU) The following day, October 3, the Ambassador visited Thanh
Hoa Province's Prison 5, a larger minimum security prison located
two hours south of Bao Son, to meet with Dai's close associate,
dissident attorney and Bloc 8406 member Le Thi Cong Nhan. Nhan
appeared healthy, but subdued and defiant. She chose her words
carefully, noting that she had only been informed of the meeting ten
minutes previously. Prison Commander Thai Trinh Tuong and his staff
were considerably less at ease than their counterparts at Ba Sao and
kept the conversation strictly to the allotted thirty minutes.
Before the meeting, Tuong complained that Nhan was not serving her
sentence "properly," often breaking prison rules and refusing to
work. Worse, in Tuong's estimation, Nhan would not acknowledge her
offense, a primary requirement for amnesty.

6. (SBU) At the beginning of the meeting, Nhan said that she had
been admonished by prison officials to "speak honestly," but felt
intimidated since that was precisely what had gotten her in trouble
with the law to begin with. Nevertheless, she would try to tell the
truth, she said. Commenting on prison conditions, Nhan said that
she was housed with 53 other inmates in a dormitory-style ward in a
separate all-female section of the prison. (Note: According to
Tuong, approximately one quarter of the prison's 4,000 inmates are
female. End note.) She said that her living arrangements were the
same as those of her fellow prisoners, but complained that the ward
was too crowded, with inmates sleeping "shoulder to shoulder." She
also criticized the food, describing the weekly servings of fish and
pork as miniscule.

7. (SBU) An observant Protestant, Nhan said that she has a Bible
and is able to pray freely; however, the approximately 50 Catholics
that she knew in prison were afraid to request a Bible. Asked about
her daily routine, Nhan said that she was not required to work as
hard as the others, and that her primary responsibility was to
assist in sweeping the floor and cutting the grass. She protested,
however, that prison officials did not supply her with adequate

HANOI 00001144 002 OF 002


tools. She attempted to organize a petition, but none of the other
women would sign. (Note: After the meeting, Tuong noted that other
women assigned to sweep the floor typically make their own brooms
from banana leaves. End note.) Nhan complained of frequent sinus
headaches and stomach pain, but said that after a cursory exam, the
prison doctor had dismissed her ailments as minor. She said that,
per prison regulations, she is visited once a month by relatives.
They provide her with over-the-counter medicine for her symptoms,
but she is reluctant to take them without clear instructions from a
doctor.

8. (SBU) Turning to politics, Nhan insisted that despite pressure,
she refuses to proclaim her love for the Communist Party of Vietnam
or to acknowledge that stating her political opinions constitutes a
crime. Even if she were a model prisoner in all other respects,
this fact alone would preclude amnesty, she said.

Background Information
----------------------

9. (SBU) Prominent members of the Bloc 8406 political movement,
attorneys Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan were convicted in May
2007 under Article 88 of the criminal code, which bans "conducting
propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam." Dai was
sentenced to five years in prison, Nhuan to four; their sentences
were later reduced by one year. Founder of the Vietnam Committee
for Human Rights, Dai is a recipient of Human Rights Watch's Hellman
and Hammett award for writers under persecution. Prior to her
arrest Nhan was the spokesman for the Vietnam Progression Party.
The United States has raised both individuals' cases repeatedly and
at senior levels, including by Secretary Rice to FM Khiem during
President Triet's July 2007 visit to Washington.

Michalak

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