Cablegate: Controversial Vietnamese Mennonite Pastor Convicted In

Published: Fri 12 Nov 2004 10:47 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
121047Z Nov 04
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: A) HCMC 823; B) HCMC 232; C) HCMC 1388
1. (SBU) According to Pham Dinh Nhan (strictly protect), a leader
of the Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship (VEF), an association of
house church groups, in a trial the morning of November 12, the
HCMC Criminal Court sentenced controversial Mennonite Pastor
Nguyen Hong Quang to three years imprisonment. While we have not
yet seen the indictment, a June 15 diplomatic note from the HCMC
External Relations Office (ERO) informed us that Quang was
arrested for "instigating a disturbance of public order and
systematically resisting law enforcement officers" (ref A). (This
would likely make the charge "resisting persons in the performance
of their official duties", article 257 of the Penal Code.) Five
other members of Quang's unrecognized Mennonite Church were given
sentences ranging from nine months to two years in prison on
similar charges. The case stems from a March 2004 incident when
Quang and several followers were involved in an altercation with
plainclothes police outside Quang's residence, which doubled as a
house church (ref B).
2. (SBU) In early November, the HCMC ERO denied our formal request
to attend the trial, informing ConGen that attendance was not
possible under Vietnamese law. We subsequently were refused entry
to the court on the morning of November 12.
3. (SBU) According to Pastor Nhan, police "visited" his residence
and that of other VEF leaders the evening of November 11. Nhan
surmised that the police sought to prevent the VEF from organizing
in advance of the trial. Late in the morning of November 12 after
the police left, Pastor Nhan joined a small number of his
followers outside the courthouse. Their vigil was largely
peaceful except for when one of the worshipers put on a white
skullcap embroidered with a cross. According to Nhan, at this
point, the police approached Nhan and asked that the head covering
be removed. We understand the issue was resolved peacefully.
4. (SBU) Nhan confirmed as authentic a letter dated November 5
forwarded to diplomats from contacts abroad in which he and 21
other VEF pastors called on the courts and the GVN to "immediately
put a stop to slandering and smearing the good name and the human
dignity of the Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang." Terming the letter
"mild," Nhan said that he had not intended for the letter to
become public, adding that he could not control the actions of
other VEF members. Nhan said that he hoped that the letter's
publication would not affect the VEF's budding dialogue with
Vietnamese officials on the new legal framework on religion, due
to come into effect on November 15 (ref C).
5. (SBU) Comment: Before his arrest in June, the firebrand Quang
had become increasingly confrontational with local authorities.
We have been encouraging our more moderate VEF contacts to strike
a careful balance between supporting Quang and ensuring that they
are not harmed by their association with the provocative pastor.
This is particularly the case now, as our VEF contacts themselves
acknowledge that the GVN -- for the first time -- is taking formal
note of their concerns over the new legal framework on religion.
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