Washington has made a strong protest over the treatment of Christian Marchant, a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi. Marchant was roughed up on Wednesday outside a home for retired priests in the central Vietnamese city of Hue, where Catholic priest Rev. Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, 63, is being held under house arrest.
Pro-democracy campaigner Ly, who has served almost 15 years in jail for his activism, told Radio Free Asia that police wrestled Marchant to the ground as he approached the retirement home and then hustled him into a squad car. The Associated Press quoted an anonymous Washington official saying that officers repeatedly shut a car door on his legs.
Mark Toner, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said in a briefing Thursday that Marchant was "injured during that incident," adding that the diplomat was now "up and walking around now." He added that the State Department had summoned Vietnam's ambassador in Washington to explain the incident. Michael Michalak, the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, described the attack as "an incident of grave concern."
Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga has announced that the government will look into the incident, according to the AP, but he noted that foreign diplomats were required to abide by the host country's laws.
The country's state-controlled media, meanwhile, has attempted to pin the blame for the beating on Marchant, who recently received a State Department award for his human rights work. State-run daily Thanh Nien claimed that police had been forced to arrest Marchant after he punched a bystander in the face and hurled obscenities in English and Vietnamese, Bloomberg reports.
"They beat and sometimes kill suspects in detention," Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asian division of the rights group, said in a statement. "They brutalize dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists. They assault citizens over minor traffic violations."
This attack is unlikely to cause any lasting damage to the U.S. and Vietnam's relationship. The former enemies are now firm allies, and American companies -- including Intel, which opened a $1 billion chip testing and assembly plant there in October -- are among the biggest international investors in the country. The two countries' armed forces also now carry out joint military exercises, in an attempt to balance the rising might of China in southeast Asia.