Monday, October 03, 2011

Wikileaks and the LDS Church

Excerpts of WikiLeaks files: U.S. envoys helped Mormons worldwide by Tony Semrad,The Salt Lake Tribune
Thankful for the opportunity, an LDS Church official in Kazakhstan presented tenets of his faith to the central Asian nation's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, a tough former Communist labeled by detractors as corrupt and ruthless.
General authority Paul Pieper, who represents the area for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke in both Kazakh and Russian
as he outlined support of traditional family values, education and the authority of local governments — as well as the faith's taboos against alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs....
The striking July 2009 exchange was captured in one of nearly 100 confidential State Department cables mentioning Mormons abroad, among a trove of more than 270,000 U.S. diplomatic documents released by the controversial whistle-blower website, WikiLeaks. Reflecting the Salt Lake City-based faith's scope, the LDS-related cables span church activities in 40 countries across Africa, Europe, North and South America, the Middle East and Asia.
Only one — on Libyan-related terror attacks in 1986, including the bombing of a Mormon meetinghouse in Venezuela — is considered secret, though many of the rest are officially deemed confidential or classified.
...The documents recount U.S. efforts in dozens of countries to address bureaucratic limits, tax inequities, political antagonism, hostile rumors and even physical threats against LDS Church personnel....
Many of the cables mention Mormons in the context of their ability to worship and proselytize on foreign soil. Others reference the church and its members only in passing or as part of work-a-day monitoring of news accounts. A few deal at length with LDS logistics and concerns, restrictions on its congregations abroad, and, in some cases, emergencies confronting missionaries in the field.
U.S. Embassy officials in Guyana mobilized in September 2009 when police detained and expelled 41 Mormon missionaries without formal charges on orders from the South American nation's Ministry of Home Affairs. The arrests — which diplomats said caught even Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo by surprise — were officially blamed on discrepancies in their work permits.
Privately, a top criminal investigator was more blunt about the government's intent. "The Minister wants them out," the investigator reportedly said.
Their passports confiscated, the missionaries — including an elderly couple — were held in jail all day while police "failed to provide them with basic necessities such as water, food and toilet paper," a Sept. 3, 2009, cable detailed. Though the Mormons were freed at Jagdeo's behest, U.S. diplomats called the episode "deeply disturbing."
Embassy officials pushed back in a series of high-level meetings aimed at cutting through work-permit red tape andremoving quotas on LDS missionaries allowed in Guyana, decrying the rules as "arbitrary."
The WikiLeaks documents reveal State Department officials as often deeply knowledgeable about LDS activities — indicating a steady flow of information between church leaders and diplomats and a gathering of U.S. intelligence through media reports and local contacts.
In one cable dealing exclusively with Mormon affairs, a Shanghai-based diplomat offers detailed information on member numbers in Shanghai, Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan; the nationality mix of the Shanghai LDS congregation; weeklymeetings; meeting site infrastructure and security; and proscriptions from the pulpit against proselytizing among Chinese nationals.
And, in a policy reference echoed in several other memos, thesame January 2010 cable also offers a top LDS official's approach to local authority.
The comment, from Mormon Shanghai International District President Stayner B. Lewis, came in light of a Chinese announcement loosening restrictions on meetings by religious groups not officially recognized by the government. The edict by the Shanghai Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) amounted to one of the first official documents issued in mainland China giving expatriate members of a religious group official permission to gather.
When Slovakia decreed that some religions had to file 20,000 signature petitions to secure official recognition, LDS officials organized a monthlong, 30-city effort and swiftly gathered the signatures, according to a cable issued in September 2006. But their efforts faced opposition.
Police threatened Mormon signature gatherers with fines in the western Slovakia city of Trnava — seat of the Catholic archbishop in Slovakia — and kicked them out of the city. And in Zilina, in the northwest, "nuns staged protests urging passers-by not to sign the Mormon petition," according to the Sept. 26, 2006, cable.
"The Catholic Church in Slovakia," the cable noted, "had issued a statement urging its members not to sign the petition."
U.S. diplomats showed similar sensitivity, cables show, to caustic statements made against Mormons by religious authorities of orthodox Christian sects in Egypt, Bulgaria and Russia.
Embassy officials in Armenia highlighted an odd, unattributed article published in an opposition newspaper, which claimed that "Mormons and Pentecostals had established ties with 'well-known criminals' who protected the 'sects' interests' presumably against the government." Diplomats chased down various reactions to the article, apparently trying to understand its implications, according to an April 3, 2006, cable.
They quoted a local LDS leader as saying the piece was "unequivocally false" and an attempt by the Armenian government to discredit the religion in apparent retribution for reporting an incident in which two Mormon missionaries claimed they were assaulted by police officers.

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