U.S. Diplomat Attacked by Vietnamese Police

January 6, 2011 - 6:01 AM

Hanoi, Vietnam (AP) - An American diplomat was attacked by police in central Vietnam, the U.S. Embassy said Thursday. A media report said the human rights officer was roughed up while trying to meet with a prominent dissident.

U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia said Christian Marchant, a political officer at the embassy in Hanoi, was attacked by police Wednesday outside the home of Catholic priest Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly.

It cited Ly as saying Marchant was wrestled to the ground by authorities and later put into a police car and driven away. Marchant's work on human rights was recently recognized with an award from the State Department.

The U.S. Embassy did not release specific details about the incident, but confirmed that a diplomat was roughed up in the central city of Hue.

"We are aware of and deeply concerned by the incident in Hue and have officially registered a strong protest with the Vietnamese government in Hanoi as well as the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, D.C.," embassy spokesman Beau Miller said.

Police in Hue declined to comment, and the Foreign Ministry in Hanoi did not immediately respond to a written query.

Ly, 63, one of Vietnam's best-known dissidents, was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2007 on charges of trying to undermine Vietnam's Communist government. He is now under house arrest after being released last year on medical parole.

During his trial, he shocked the court by shouting out in protest. Photos of a police officer covering Ly's mouth to try to silence him circulated worldwide. The priest has long been supported by several members of the U.S. Congress who have repeatedly called for his release.

The U.S. government has been a loud critic of Vietnam's human rights record, urging Hanoi to stop jailing pro-democracy dissidents and to allow followers of all religions to worship freely.

The U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, Michael Michalak, told reporters last month there was a spike in arrests and convictions in 2010 involving people peacefully expressing their views.

Vietnam's government does not tolerate any challenge to its one-party rule. It maintains that only lawbreakers are jailed.