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.”