Cablegate: Sea Games Religious Pamphlet Incident Follow-Up

Published: Thu 11 Dec 2003 11:12 AM
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
REF: HCMC 001215
1. (SBU) SUMMARY. ConGenoffs met with Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang
on December 11, 2003, to discuss the events of December 9-10
(reftel). Quang was also accompanied by the allegedly beaten
religious worker. An agreement between Protestants and police had
reportedly resulted in the release of all but two detainees, who
were still dealing with bureaucratic issues. ConGenoffs also
clarified details concerning numbers and the source of the "SEA
Games" pamphlets. END SUMMARY.
2. (SBU) According to Pastor Quang, the U.S. student organization
Campus Crusade for Christ funded the pamphlet production and
coordinated the design with pastors in Vietnam, though he did not
reveal which pastors. He originally stated that the pamphlets
"showed up" at the houses of various Protestant leaders and that
they decided to use them because "the content was good." At
first, he denied knowledge of where the pamphlets were printed,
but later said that they were printed by many sources in both
Thailand and Vietnam. Plans called for about one million total
pamphlets to be distributed. On December 10, however, police
reportedly raided one printing house and seized 30,000 pamphlets.
Quang was uncertain how many pamphlets have actually been printed
and distributed. At the time of the incident, the religious
worker who was allegedly beaten had a box of pamphlets on his
motorbike. (Post Note: Other pastors who helped with the
pamphlets told ConGen that Campus Crusade for Christ had no
connection at all with the pamphlets and also said the number they
originally planned to distribute was 300,000 not one million. End
3. (SBU) Pastor Quang claimed that the religious worker had been
beaten and attacked with electric prods, as the church's December
10 press release stated. He initially said that the religious
worker had bruises on his chest, arms, and back. When ConGenoffs
asked the worker to show his bruises, however, Quang informed them
that the Vietnamese police had "very advanced" techniques so that
they could beat someone without leaving any marks and that the
electric prods had been covered with rubber and cloth. The worker
had a visible scratch on his face. He could not explain how it
was caused, but said it happened during the altercation with
police. He showed ConGenoffs two tiny scratches on his wrist that
he claimed were from handcuffs. Finally, he removed part of his
shirt and showed a small red abrasion on the inside of his upper
arm. He claimed this was caused when he was grabbed by the police
and tried to pull away, although he also mentioned being dragged
along the street as he was being arrested. He showed no other
visible marks and moved normally, without any apparent
difficulties. Quang also patted the worker on the shoulders and
back throughout the meeting without the worker showing any pain or
discomfort. Quang stated that pictures had been taken of marks
after the beating and distributed via e-mail, which Mission later
received via a public information email address.
4. (SBU) Twenty "students" accompanied Pastor Quang to the police
station on the evening of December 9, and twenty more "students"
joined the "sit in" on December 10. According to Quang, the
Protestants threatened both a hunger strike and a 3,000-10,000
person demonstration outside the HCMC People's Committee building
unless police met three demands. Quang claimed the police at
first asked them to please have a smaller group, maybe several
hundred, not thousands. Quang outlined the conditions he had set.
First, the police would investigate the incident, identify those
responsible for "the attack," and have those individuals
apologize. Second, police would release twenty Protestants
"detained" over the previous three days for pamphlet-related
offenses. Finally, the police would agree to "honor the security"
of the Protestants as long as they were not violating any laws,
and would follow proper procedure and not beat anyone if the
Protestants were violating the law. Police and Protestant leaders
signed a document outlining these points on the evening of
December 10. The document did not require the police to admit any
wrongdoing, beyond the promised investigation, or admit to
detaining anyone. However, most of the alleged detainees were
released that evening and the following morning.
5. (SBU) As of Pastor Quang's meeting with Congenoffs, only two
alleged detainees had not reported in to family members. Quang
speculated that those two were delayed because of administrative
paperwork concerning the release of seized motorbikes, noting that
the motorbikes might not be legally registered. He said that if
those two were not released promptly, he and a few other select
Protestant leaders would go into hiding so that their followers
would think they were still detained and proceed with the planned
demonstration. The police also agreed to provide "protection," as
long as no laws were being broken, if the pastors called 113, the
Vietnamese equivalent of 911. Quang said that they had called
once last evening when they believed they were being followed, and
that the 113 police arrived as promised.
6. (SBU) Pastor Quang did not believe that his meeting with
Poloff and DRL on December 9 was associated with the incident.
His theory about why he was almost stopped immediately after his
meeting was that the confusion of the SEA Games and the large
crowds on the street provided plainclothes police officers with an
easy opportunity. He indicated that he was watched and followed
constantly, so the police always know how to find him. The
religious worker said that one police officer told him that his
beating and detention happened because of the pamphlets.
7. (SBU) COMMENT: While the meeting clarified some details, Post
was unable to confirm some of the more extreme claims made in the
email press release attributed to the Vietnamese Mennonite Church.
Pastor Quang said he was not aware of the press release, but some
of his followers may have put it together hurriedly for foreign
dissemination. Post was able to obtain a copy of the agreement
with the police, which appears to be genuine. It is harder to
confirm any serious attempt on Pastor Quang's life by the police,
a concern that Quang has voiced for the past several years without
visible evidence. The religious worker did not appear to be
seriously injured and seemed in very good shape for someone who
had allegedly been "fiercely attacked by many police armed with
rifles, pistols, and electric rods" or "badly tortured in
detention" thirty-six hours before. He could well have been in a
scuffle with police during his arrest, as at least some of his
responses suggested, and may have been handled roughly during his
detention. (This is also a frequent complaint even in cases not
involving religious activities.) Quang did not indicate if the
group intends to continue to distribute the pamphlets and risk
more confrontations with the police.
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