U.S. protests treatment of diplomat in Vietnam
The U.S. government Thursday said it has strongly protested Vietnam's treatment of a U.S. diplomat who was detained and wrestled to the ground while attempting to visit a dissident Roman Catholic priest—a development that could further inflame concerns in the U.S. about the Southeast Asian nation's human rights record.
U.S. Ambassador Michael Michalak confirmed an incident occurred after the American-funded Radio Free Asia reported that an embassy political officer it identified as Christian Marchant was intercepted by police Wednesday outside the home of the Rev. Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly in Hue, central Vietnam. The report said Mr. Marchant was manhandled by local authorities before being forced into a police car and driven away. He was later released.
"The United States government, both here in Hanoi and in Washington, has lodged a strong, official protest with the government of Vietnam regarding the treatment of one of our diplomats," Mr. Michalak told reporters Thursday during a press briefing in Hanoi, the Associated Press reported.
Mr. Marchant couldn't be reached for comment. Vietnamese government officials couldn't be reached for comment, although the AP reported Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga as saying the Vietnamese government is reviewing what happened. She also said foreign diplomats have to abide by a host country's laws.
Vietnam's treatment of dissidents and religious activists is a major point of contention in relations between Hanoi and Washington, which have otherwise been warming significantly in recent months. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last year announced during a visit to Vietnam that the U.S. endorses an international, multilateral approach to resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea, portions of which are claimed by both China and Vietnam, as well as other countries in the region. Her statement echoes Vietnam's preferred strategy for dealing with the problem, and angered Chinese authorities in Beijing.
The U.S. and Vietnam also are developing a deepening military relationship and U.S. Navy vessels have visited the country several times in recent years. Vietnam is enthusiastically endorsing Washington's proposals to create a pan-Pacific trading zone known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Hanoi's dwindling tolerance for free speech and freedom of worship in recent years, though, threatens to sour the relationship. Political analysts say the upcoming Communist Party Congress, which begins next week, has prompted security forces in Vietnam to take an increasingly harsh line against dissidents in order to deter any possible disruptions.
Father Ly's involvement is especially significant. The priest is a potential lightning rod for dissent and is one of Vietnam's best known antigovernment critics and a persistent advocate for greater human rights and religious freedoms in the one-party state. In 2007, he was sentenced to eight years in prison after being convicted of attempting to undermine the government, prompting several members of the U.S. Congress to demand his release. Now 63 years old, Father Ly is being held under house arrest in Hue because of health problems, including treatment for a brain tumor.
In a symbolic resolution, the U.S. House of Representatives last month called on Vietnam to be included on Washington's blacklist of religious rights offenders.
By James Hookway - The Wall Street Journal - January 6, 2011
US protests attack on diplomat by Vietnamese police
Hanoi - The United States has formally complained to the Vietnamese government over a police attack Thursday on one of its diplomats in Hanoi and asked for an explanation of the incident.
Christian Marchant, a political officer at the embassy in Hanoi, was roughed up by police Wednesday, outside the home of Catholic priest and dissident Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly in Hue City.
The US embassy said the diplomat had been assaulted during the course of his normal, official duties.
'The United States government, both here in Hanoi and in Washington, has lodged a strong, official protest with the government of Vietnam regarding the treatment of one of our diplomats,' Ambassador Michael W Michalak said at a press conference. 'We are waiting for an official response from the government of Vietnam.'
Mark Toner, a spokesman for the US State Department, told reporters in Washington that the Vietnamese ambassador had been summoned for a meeting with US officials.
'We are looking to the government of Vietnam to provide us with an explanation of what actually happened,' Toner said.
Michalak urged the government to comply fully with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, including ensuring the safety and security of diplomatic personnel.
Radio Free Asia cited Ly as saying Marchant was wrestled to the ground by police, put into a police car and driven away.
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said Thursday that Vietnam always respects international law, including the Vienna Convention, in its treatment of foreign diplomats.
Nguyen Phuong Nga added that, 'at the same time, foreign diplomatic agencies and diplomats also have a responsibility to comply with the Vienna convention and laws of the local country.'
The national authorities were considering Marchant's conduct in their assessment of the incident, she said.
Ly, 63, a prominent dissident, was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2007 for spreading anti-government propaganda. He was released for medical treatment last March after serving three years, but is still under house arrest.
The priest's release came after 37 US senators urged President Nguyen Minh Triet to set Ly free.
Deutsche Presse Agentur - January 6, 2011