Cablegate: Protestant Possibly Beaten, Detained for Distributing

Published: Wed 10 Dec 2003 12:49 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E. O. 12958: N/A
1. (SBU) SUMMARY. At least one Protestant religious worker in Ho
Chi Minh City was reportedly beaten and detained on December 9 for
involvement in the distribution of religious leaflets designed to
look like official Southeast Asia (SEA) Games pamphlets. Other
Protestant leaders held a "sit-in" at a local police station to
protest the arrest. One pastor told ConGen that a high-ranking
police contact had indicated late Tuesday that distributors of
this pamphlet would be strictly prosecuted. The organizers had
previously received repeated warnings from authorities not to
distribute the material. Other pastors and religious workers who
were involved in distributing the pamphlets have reportedly failed
to check in with family and friends. END SUMMARY.
2. (SBU) HCC Protstants printed 200,000 copies of a religious
pamphlet for distribution in both Hanoi and HCMC during this
year's 22nd annual SEA Games December 5-14, which Vietnam is
hosting for the first time. The front cover of the pamphlet reads
"SEA GAMES 22: Vietnam 2003" and includes the official SEA Games
logo and other official-looking symbols. The back cover has the
schedule for men's and women's soccer events. Closed, the
pamphlet is indistinguishable from an official program of events,
but the inside reveals two full pages of religious quotes and
3. (SBU) On the evening of December 9, an unregistered Mennonite
house church pastor and an associate claimed to have been
confronted by police after leaving another pastor's home where the
pamphlets were being stored. The first pastor fled the scene back
to the second pastor's home, but his associate was allegedly
beaten and detained by police. The associate was reportedly taken
to a police station in HCMC's District 1. Poloff spoke with
several Protestant contacts during the night and received
conflicting reports. A third Protestant pastor told Poloff that
he had spoken with high-level contacts in the HCMC branch of the
Ministry of Public Security and been told that the decision had
been made to strictly prosecute those responsible for the
pamphlet. Authorities had previously warned the organizers of the
group more than once not to distribute the pamphlet.
4. (SBU) The Mennonite pastor and fifteen associates have engaged
in a "sit-in" at the District 1 police station since last night to
demand the release of their detained colleague. Fifteen other
Protestants, including the pastor whose house was used for storage
of the brochures, have yet to check in with their families and
friends. This follows the alleged one-day detention of seven
Protestants in the Hanoi area a few days ago. One of those
individuals was also allegedly beaten. All of these cases
involved distribution of the pamphlet.
5. (SBU) Initial reports by pastors to ConGen on December 9 made
conflicting claims that up to 16 Protestants had been beaten and
were under medical care, or were detained at three separate
locations. In a separate meeting earlier the same day, one of the
pastors told ConGen a student had been beaten by eleven police for
distributing the pamphlet. When ConGen asked to meet with the
student, the pastor refused, saying there were no marks and there
was no point in asking any questions. As of December 10 in the
morning, the various stories had synthesized into one detainee and
fifteen sit-in protesters. However, a December 10 public
statement from the Vietnamese Mennonite Church on the same events,
received subsequently via Post's public affairs email account,
claims that police attacked a religious worker and pastor with
"electric rods and pistols" in an attempt to "assassinate" the
two. An update from the group the evening of December 10
indicated that a deal was being brokered in which the police would
release several detainees, including some of those who had not
been in touch with their families, if the sit-in would disperse.
6. (SBU) COMMENT: While Post is attempting to clarify the
situation, some of the primary sources for this incident are among
the least credible. This is the same group that was involved in
an incident during the visit of A/S Dewey earlier in the year,
when a confrontation over a prayer service with mistakes on both
sides led to one of the pastors "punching a policeman," in his own
words. There were still other incidents with this group during
another high-level visit on religious issues. They have also
illicitly brought cameras and video recorders to meetings with
Congen staff to try to videostream the meetings on the Internet
and use them for publicity. Post was disconcerted that a top
Protestant community leader knew nothing about the alleged
pamphlet incident nearly twenty-four hours later. Those involved
in the incident wanted to have a ConGenOff come meet with them at
the police station, but have yet to act on an invitation to meet
elsewhere to discuss the incident in detail.
7. (SBU) Comment continued: The GVN has several options by which
to prosecute this case beyond normal restrictions on
proselytizing, including misrepresentation, unauthorized use of
official government logos, and even IPR violations if the logos
were copyrighted. ConGen will continue to monitor the situation
and follow up with our contacts, while remaining cautious about
being drawn into deliberate, manipulative provocations. It's hard
to tell whether the police are more upset by the religious content
of the pamphlet or the fact that the GVN itself was made to look
like it was proselytizing.
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