A U.S. diplomat, who was attacked by Vietnamese police when he went to visit a detained religious dissident, sustained injuries but is expected to recover, according to U.S. officials.
Rights groups and U.S. lawmakers condemned the attack on Hanoi-based U.S. embassy political officer Christian Marchant, calling it a violation of international laws which afford foreign diplomats special protection.
Mark Toner, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said in a briefing today that Marchant was “injured during that incident,” adding that the diplomat was “up and walking around now.”
The State Department summoned the Vietnamese ambassador in Washington yesterday to protest the incident, Toner said.
Marchant was roughed up outside the home for retired priests in central Vietnam’s Hue city where Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly, 63, is being held under house arrest after being released from jail on medical parole last year. The diplomat had a pre-arranged meeting with Ly.
Ly had told RFA in interview that Marchant was wrestled to the ground, put into a police car and driven away after he was barred from speaking with him by police.
The Associated Press quoted an anonymous official in Washington as saying that Vietnamese police repeatedly slammed a car door on Marchant’s legs as he was removed from the area.
Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said the government is reviewing the incident, but added that foreign diplomats are required to abide by host country laws, according to an AP report.
Marchant had recently received an award from the State Department for his work on human rights.
Pattern of violence
Human rights groups and U.S. lawmakers said the Vietnamese government must be held accountable for its record of rights abuses before Washington continues to advance trade relations between the two countries.
Leonard Lao, chair of the Washington-based United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, said the incident was not without precedent.
“The Vietnamese police often act without consequences with the blessings of the Vietnamese government whose policy it is to repress peaceful dissent, independent religious activity, and human rights lawyers,” Leo said.
“The U.S. cannot continue to act as a broker for Vietnam’s interest in increased trade and South China Sea security without advancing human rights and the rule of law,” he said, calling on Washington to re-designate Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) in an annual U.S. State Department report on religious freedom.
The list of "countries of particular concern" was created in 1999, but Vietnam was removed in 2006.
Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of the Asia Division at the New York-based Human Rights Watch called the incident “a further indication that the Vietnamese police are out of control.”
“Part of this connects to the fact that the government does not hold them accountable for use of violence in an unjustifiable way—in a way that they are clearly outside the law,” Robertson said.
He said that diplomats from other countries based in Hanoi and in Ho Chi Minh city may begin to question Vietnam’s respect for international law, noting that the protection of embassy officials is a “cornerstone” of bilateral relations.
“How would they know that it won’t happen to them?” he asked.
Robertson said he was particularly concerned that, up until the attack, Marchant had played a “very essential role in [the] dialogue on human rights between Vietnam and the U.S.”
Country of concern?
U.S. Congressman for California Ed Royce (R), who on Wednesday introduced a bill barring Vietnamese officials complicit in human rights abuses from coming to the United States to conduct business, called the incident “an important reminder … that we need more attention on [the] issue of religious liberty and human rights in Vietnam.”
Royce, who also introduced a resolution urging the U.S. State Department to put Vietnam back on the CPC blacklist, said Washington had stood aside while human rights abuses in Vietnam have gotten worse.
“It’s gotten so bad that now you have a State Department official being mistreated … because he attempted to visit Father Ly who has served … 15 years of his life in prison for speaking out about religious freedom,” he said.
“It’s one more example of why the pressure continues to increase here in Congress to have the State Department put Vietnam back on the CPC list.”
Reported by Viet Long, Mai Lai, and Viet Ha for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.