US lodges strong protest with Vietnam after beating of American diplomat

Christian Marchant and Fr. Nguyen Van Ly
Christian Marchant and Fr. Nguyen Van Ly


The U.S. State Department lodged a sharp protest with the Vietnamese government after a U.S. diplomat was beaten in the country for attempting to visit an ailing Catholic priest who is under house arrest.

The recent incident joins a string of human rights abuses involving Vietnamese police using violence against the country's inhabitants.

Radio Free Asia reported on Jan. 5 that the U.S. has lodged a "strong protest" with the Vietnamese government after local policemen attacked Christian Marchant – a political officer with the U.S. embassy in Hanoi –  while he was trying to visit a Catholic priest.

Marchant, a practicing Mormon who lives in Hanoi, Vietnam with his wife and two children, was allegedly beaten outside a home for retired priests in Hue, where 63 year-old Father Nguyen Van Ly, a pro-democracy activist, is being held under house arrest. Father Ly was released from prison on medical parole last year. The diplomat had a pre-arranged meeting with Father Ly, who later told the RFA that he witnessed Marchant being wrestled to the ground, placed in a police vehicle and driven away. Police reportedly shut a car door numerous times on Marchant's legs.

“The United States Government, both here in Hanoi and in Washington, has lodged a strong, official protest with the Government of Vietnam,” said U.S. Ambassador Michael W. Michalak at a press conference concluding his three year term in the country on Jan. 6. “We are waiting for an official response from the Government of Vietnam.”

Mark Toner, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, reported in a Jan. 6 briefing that although Marchant was “injured during that incident,” the diplomat was “up and walking around now.”

The U.S. State Department has summoned the Vietnamese ambassador in Washington to protest the incident, Toner said.

Officials from the Vietnamese embassy to the U.S. in Washington, D.C. did not respond to a request for comment from CNA.

Reports on human rights abuses in Vietnam – particularly against religious minorities such as Catholics – have caused an outcry among U.S. political leaders.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) recently condemned violence against Catholics by the Vietnamese government and appealed to President Obama  for a resolution designating Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern.

Beatings, Church raids, arrests – and even deaths –  are some of the violent incidents that have been inflicted on Catholics by authorities in Vietnam over increased conflict related to property rights. Throughout the last several decades, in provinces throughout the country, tensions have mounted between the Communist government and local parishioners as officials have repeatedly attempted to claim land where Catholic churches and facilities are situated.

Rep. Smith said in his remarks to Congress in Dec. 2010 that although Vietnam was listed as a Country of Particular Concern in 2004 and 2005 – with demonstrable progress for Catholics in the area during that time – the country has since been removed. He claimed that the Vietnamese government promising concrete actions as well as a major trade agreement with the U.S. led to Vietnam being taken off of the CPC list.

After this, he said, many “religious believers who expected a thaw and reform and openness were arrested or rearrested and sent to prison.”

He added that the Country of Particular Concern designation – and the penalties described by the International Religious Freedom Act – have in the past and “can be again a useful tool in performing reform in Vietnam.”

“Congress, the president, and all those who espouse fundamental human rights ought to be outraged at Vietnam's turn for the worse,” he added. “We should stand with the oppressed, not the oppressor.”

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