January 6, 2011 / 1:34 AM / 9 years ago

U.S. protests Vietnamese police attack on diplomat

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has lodged a “strong protest” with the Vietnamese government over the attack on a U.S. diplomat by police in central Vietnam, a State Department spokesman said on Wednesday.

Christian Marchant, a political officer with the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, was roughed up outside a residence where outspoken Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly is being held under house arrest, Radio Free Asia reported.

Police attacked Marchant while barring the American diplomat from meeting with Ly, one of Vietnam’s highest-profile human rights advocates, Radio Free Asia said.

“We are aware of and deeply concerned by the incident and have officially registered a strong protest with the Vietnamese government in Hanoi,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

“We plan to raise the issue with Ambassador (Le Cong) Phung in Washington as well,” Toner added.

“Diplomats are entitled under international law to special protection against attack,” Toner said. “The government of Vietnam has a responsibility to take appropriate steps to prevent any attack on the person, freedom, or dignity of diplomats.”

Ly told Radio Free Asia there were hundreds of witnesses to the incident on Wednesday in the city of Hue.

“They reported that he (Marchant) was wrestled down to the ground right in the middle of the road,” Ly said.

The ailing 63-year-old cleric was released from prison for medical treatment last March after serving three years of an eight-year sentence for spreading anti-government propaganda.

Ly’s release came after 37 U.S. senators urged Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet to set the priest free.

Reporting by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Peter Cooney

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