Cablegate: Human Rights and Religious Freedom in Hue

DE RUEHHI #1390/01 3541041
O 191041Z DEC 08 ZDK




E.O. 12958: N/A

SUBJECT: Human Rights and Religious Freedom in Hue

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The DCM marked the 60th anniversary of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights by meeting with the Archbishop
of Hue, as well as dissident priests from the banned political
movement Bloc 8406 and leaders of the Unified Buddhist Church of
Vietnam. The Archbishop stressed the positive trajectory of
religious freedom in Vietnam, as well as the strengthening of
relations between the GVN and the Vatican, and praised provincial
officials for resolving land disputes and returning Church property
at the La Vang pilgrimage site. By contrast, the dissident priests
and monks decried the lack of political and press freedom in

Views of the Archbishop of Hue

2. (SBU) Archbishop Eitenne Nguyen Nhu The and the Auxiliary Bishop
of Hue Francois Xavier Le Van Hong met with the DCM on December 9.
The Archbishop asserted that the Vatican and government of Vietnam
need each other. The Vatican wants to establish relations to assist
members of its flock, while the GVN wants to boost its international
credibility by joining the 177 countries that currently have
relations with the Holy See. Declaring that the Catholic Church in
Vietnam is very different from the Catholic Church in China, the
Archbishop explained that unlike in China, in Vietnam the Catholic
Church has authority to send local leaders to the Vatican for
meetings. The Archbishop speculated that the Vatican will not wait
to establish ties until after moving forward with China. At the
same time, he said that he does not believe the Pope will visit
Vietnam if relations have not yet been established.

3. (SBU) Regarding the overall situation of religious freedom, the
Archbishop stressed the positive trajectory of the country and said
that progress continues year by year. He highlighted in particular
the growing freedom of the past two years of Protestant churches,
progress the Catholic Church welcomes.

Positive Results on Land Disputes

4. (SBU) The Archbishop praised efforts by provincial and local
officials to work with the Church to resolve land disputes in An
Bang parish by authorizing a land swap. The Archbishop considered
the matter closed and emphatically stated that "there is no
dispute." The Archbishop also applauded the efforts of provincial
officials to return 16 hectares of land to the Church around the La
Vang pilgrimage site; he said he was hopeful the Church would
receive the formal land use certificate by the end of the year. He
said that local officials hope to turn the area into a "spiritual
tourism center" and noted that efforts are now being made to build
new roads and provide better access to the area.

Don't Lecture or Impose Sanctions on Vietnam

5. (SBU) When asked what the U.S. could do to improve the situation
of Religious Freedom in Vietnam, the Archbishop responded pointedly
that the United States could help a lot, but should not impose
sanctions on Vietnam or try and force the GVN's hand. He stressed
that it is important for the United States to respond to the
situation as "constructively" as possible and to treat Vietnam as an
equal partner. The Archbishop continued by asserting that when the
U.S. lectures to GVN officials they get defensive because Vietnam is
a small country.

Dissident Priests Speak out on Human Rights

6. (SBU) The DCM met with dissident priests Father Phan Van Loi and
Father Nguyen Huu Giai, who expressed markedly different views.
Father Loi stressed his belief that the Catholic Church in Vietnam
is not free because it is not allowed to provide formal educational
training or to open schools, except for kindergartens. He also
stressed that the church is not allowed to own its own newspaper,
publishing house, radio or television station, nor is it allowed to
own land. When asked his thoughts about the Thai Ha land dispute
and why the Vatican has chosen not to get involved, Father Giai
stated, "the Vatican is far away and is acting diplomatic." In
contrast to the Archbishop's optimistic assessment of the An Bang
dispute, Fathers Loi and Giai stated that while the local parish had
received assurances from local officials, the deal was not yet
complete since the new parcel of land has yet to be handed over.

7. (SBU) Responding to an inquiry about imprisoned Hue dissident
Father Nguyen Van Ly, Father Loi said that Fr. Ly's family members
continue to visit him regularly, most recently two weeks ago. Loi
affirmed that Father Ly remains of "sound mind and sound body" and
said that two Catholic priests had received permission to visit and
minister to Father Ly in prison around Christmas. Stressing their
roles in Bloc 8406, Loi and Giai estimated there were approximately

HANOI 00001390 002 OF 002

18 other priests whom they claimed were sympathetic to their cause
but were too afraid to speak out publically.

8. (SBU) Father Loi, who was imprisoned for six years (1981-1987)
for his outspoken political views and remained under house arrest
from 2001 to 2004, stated that he is currently not allowed to
participate in mass with the congregation, and suggested that the
Church may not want him there because of pressure from the GVN. He
said that while he is no longer officially under house arrest,
police maintain a presence near his home. Father Giai, who was
imprisoned from 1982-1988, said that he is allowed to travel freely
but is followed. A self-proclaimed "internet addict," Father Loi
said he gets around government efforts to cut his internet
connection by subscribing to Wi-Fi. He is one of five editors of
the independent online magazine "Freedom of Speech." (Note: two
other editors, Father Ly and Nguyen Van Dai, are currently in jail,
and two others, Father Tin and Nguyen Khac Toan, are subject to
constant surveillance. END NOTE.)

UBCV Takes a Hard Line Against GVN

9. (SBU) The DCM also met with Venerable Thich Thien Hanh,
Secretary General of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV)
Institute of the Sangha and Head of the UBCV Provincial Board in
Hue, along with Venerable Thich Chi Thang, at the Bao Quoc Pagoda in
Hue also on December 10. Hanh thanked the DCM for her inquiry after
the health of Patriarch Thich Quang Do and said that he is very
healthy and doing well.
Hanh was less patient when asked to describe the UBCV's current
situation, noting that it was the fourth or fifth time he had done
so with USG representatives. He said that the UBCV faces many
difficulties and that the goal of the GVN is to abolish the UBCV.
The GVN claims, falsely according to Hanh, that the Buddhist Church
North and UBCV merged in 1981 to create the Vietnamese Buddhist
Sangha. He stressed that those who represented the UBCV during the
talks were not actually UBCV monks, but were Communist monks
appointed by the government. Asked to provide examples of more
current persecution, Hanh complained bitterly about GVN treatment of
Buddhists who had attended the funeral this year of former Patriarch
Thich Huyen Quang and said that the GVN had prevented many from
participating and even prohibited the word "patriarch" on banners on
floral arrangements presented at the funeral.

10. (SBU) Hanh dismissed any suggestion that the UBCV should
attempt to register as a religion, arguing that this would
delegitimize the Church. He said that in effect the Church had
informally asked to be recognized by the government through open
letters to senior government officials. Asked what the United
States could do to increase religious freedom, Hanh stated that
change would only occur if the United States aggressively pressed
Vietnam. He encouraged the United States to redesignate Vietnam as
a Country of Particular Concern and to push Vietnam on human rights.
He also urged the United States to affirm Vietnam's sovereignty
over the Spratly and Paracel islands.


© Scoop Media

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