Monday, September 22, 2008

News from Nam

Many of my interviews have revealed the rough treatment of Montagnards by Vietnamese officials. Stories of Montagnards being hunted in the jungles like animals, beaten, and refused the chance to come to America. After South Vientam fell to communism, churches were destroyed and religious freedom ended.

Here is a story of a photographer being beaten for taking pictures during a protest in Hanoi. The part that lingers in my mind? The statement at the very end, "The U.S. Embassy filed a protest with the Foreign Ministry after the incident, and the State Department has asked the Vietnamese government what it would do to prevent such incidents in the future."

Why would the State Department be asking? Should we not be demanding that changes take shape? This story illustrates the realities of so much of what I have heard during my interviews.

Vietnam alleges beaten AP photographer broke law

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — The Vietnamese government said Saturday that an Associated Press journalist was violating its laws when he photographed a demonstration by land protesters in Hanoi, but sought to deny that he was beaten while in police custody.

AP Hanoi Chief of Bureau Ben Stocking emerged from a police station Friday with matted blood on his head and trousers, and a gash in his head requiring four stitches. He reported that he had been choked, punched and bashed with his own camera -- the last assault opening a cut in his scalp that bled profusely. After his 2 1/2 hours in detention, he immediately had to seek treatment at a private clinic for the head injury.

Nevertheless, a foreign ministry statement disputed that there had been a beating.

"There was no beating of Mr. Ben Stocking by the Vietnamese security force," read the statement attributed to Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung and posted on the Foreign Ministry Web site.

"Stocking broke the Vietnamese law by deliberately taking pictures at a place where taking pictures was not allowed," the statement said. "Officers who were on duty to keep the public order warned him, but Mr. Stocking did not follow."

The Associated Press stands by Stocking's account that he was assaulted and said that there was no evidence that Stocking had broken any law. It has called the treatment of him "unacceptable" and an "egregious incident of police abuse."

A video taken by an unknown cameraman and posted on YouTube showed the first part of Stocking's detention.

Before he was escorted away by a plainclothes officer and put into a choke hold, the video shows Stocking calmly standing next to a police officer in broad daylight routinely photographing the protest, which involved a long-running dispute by Roman Catholics seeking the return of what had been church land.

He offers no resistance when asked to step away and is dressed in a dark shirt and clean white trousers.

Photographs taken by the AP of him after his release a few hours later showed blood on his clothing and caking his neck and hair.

The U.S. Embassy filed a protest with the Foreign Ministry after the incident, and the State Department has asked the Vietnamese government what it would do to prevent such incidents in the future.

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists in May cited the Vietnamese government for a "recent spate of arrests, detentions, and trials of journalists in Vietnam" that it said contradicted the country's constitutional provision that "broadly protects press freedom and freedom of expression."

(Just search for the headline, and you can see the article online from the AP newswire.)


Paul said...

Freedom of the press doesn't seem like a highly prized virtue in this country, other countries probably don't rate at all on our government's list of priorities.
We would scream bloody murder if we were prohibited from knowing which celebs weren't wearing undies, but anything serious is probably considered too cerebral to be of value these days.

When I first read the article here, I assumed that this happened in the 70's. A search for the AP article shocked me to learn that this happened last week! We were lead to believe that life had gotten better there, but that seems highly doubtful. Seems like freedom of religion would be a concern to Americans, but apparently it isn't either. What's the harm in asking for the right to pray together? It's not like they're asking for the pope to run the country or something!

We probably don't have the financial clout or resources to force Vietnam to do what we'd like. We also don't have much pull in the international community to put pressure on them through diplomacy. Militarily... uh, no. But I think the real reason that they got the "um could you not do that please", is that the government, and the people don't care enough to get involved. It takes a whole lot of loud, angry voices to get anything done these days, and human rights sure don't rate on many folks lists at all anymore.

Your documentary intrigues me even more now. I'll be on the lookout for more info, but I'd hate to not be surprised when it comes out.

Camden Watts said...

Yes, it is unbelievable. Especially to know that it is the same old story repeatedly. And that the US government is talking about giving Vietnam $3 million to clean up Agent Orange problems from the war.

Thank you for your interest in the project, Paul. I hope that we can bring some of these things to light.