Vietnam summons US journalist over protest coverage

A small group of Catholics pray at a makeshift shrine (AFP)

A small group of Catholics pray at a makeshift shrine (AFP)

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam’s foreign ministry said Tuesday it had summoned a US journalist who says he was beaten by police over his coverage of ongoing protests by Catholics seeking a return of land seized in the 1950s.

The ministry confirmed press reports that it had summoned Associated Press journalist Ben Stocking on Monday, without specifying what was said or what additional action would be taken.

The AP has accused Vietnamese police of beating Stocking, the agency’s Hanoi bureau chief, as he tried to cover the start of construction Friday of a public park in Hanoi on land claimed by the Church, a move denounced by Catholics.

Police took Stocking’s camera and, when he asked for it back, hit him on the head with it and punched him, the AP said in a report datelined from Bangkok.

He then spent two and a half hours in a police station before being taken to a clinic where he received four stitches to close a head injury, the agency said.

Vietnam has denied the allegations, and accused Stocking of violating Vietnamese law by taking photographs in an off-limits zone.

The Vietnamese police daily, Cong An Nhan Dan, said Stocking had been summoned “to receive a warning,” adding that the ministry was contemplating further action.

The daily run by Vietnamese security forces, An Ninh Thu Do, carried the same report, adding that the foreign ministry had accused Stocking of slandering security forces by saying they had beaten him.

The US embassy in Vietnam said it had lodged a protest with the government over the incident at the construction site, where dozens of Catholic priests, monks and nuns had gathered.

On Tuesday, construction of the park continued behind security barriers covered with barbed wire. A few Catholics prayed at the site, but were left alone by security forces.

Source: AFP

Police detain, beat Associated Press reporter in Vietnam

New York, September 19, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the actions of Vietnamese police who assaulted Associated Press reporter Ben Stocking, after detaining him in Hanoi today. Police detained Stocking, AP’s Hanoi bureau chief, while he was covering a Catholic protest.

Anonymous video footage posted on YouTube shows two men obstructing Stocking as he tries to photograph a prayer vigil, which was staged in protest against city development of land claimed by the church. The men, one of whom wears a uniform, then lead the obviously unwilling journalist from the scene. The footage does not show the rest of the incident described in the report.

“This brutal police treatment of a working journalist is completely unwarranted,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “Journalists should be free to report civil unrest in Vietnam without fear of violence from the authorities.”

In the AP story, Stocking says police confiscated his camera then punched and kicked him when he asked for it back. He also says they hit him in the head with his camera when he reached for it at the police station where he was later taken for questioning, opening a wound which required four stitches.

The AP said it will protest the incident and that the U.S. Embassy had filed a formal protest. Stocking was allowed to leave police custody with an embassy official to seek medical treatment, the report said.

It was not clear whether police obstructed other reporters at the protest site.

CPJ News Alert 2008

More information and video of arrest

Officials in Vietnam deny beating AP reporter

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — Vietnamese officials have denied beating an Associated Press reporter in Vietnam while he covered a Catholic prayer vigil in the communist country.

The denial comes a day after Ben Stocking, the Hanoi bureau chief for The Associated Press, was released from police custody after about 2 1/2 hours and required four stitches on the back of his head. His camera was confiscated by police.

Vietnam’s foreign ministry spokesman Le Dung posted a statement Saturday on the ministry’s web site that said, “Stocking broke the Vietnamese law by deliberately taking pictures at a place where taking pictures was not allowed.”

“There was no beating of Mr. Ben Stocking by the Vietnamese security force,” the statement said.

The Associated Press: Officials in Vietnam deny beating AP reporter

More information and video of arrest

AP reporter violates Vietnam’s laws: spokesman

10:55′ 20/09/2008 (GMT+7)

Foreign Ministry spokeman Le Dung

VietNamNet Bridge – Vietnam Foreign Ministry spokeman denied accusations that an AP reporter had been beaten, but reiterated that the foreign reporter has violated the country’s laws.

“According to reports that we have received, Ben Stocking has violated Vietnam’s laws by intentionally taking photos at prohibited areas,” spokeman Le Dung said when he was asked for the reasons why AP reported Ben Stocking had been arrested for two hours and beaten by the police on September 19.

Dung also said security guards had told the reporter not to take photos but he refused to comply with.

“It is totally untrue that Mr Ben Stocking was beaten by Vietnamese police force,” the spokesman affirmed.

(Source: VNA)

VietNamNet – AP reporter violates Vietnam’s laws: spokesman

More information and video of arrest

AP reporter detained, beaten by police in Vietnam

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — An Associated Press reporter in Vietnam was punched, choked and hit over the head with a camera by police who detained him Friday while he covered a Catholic prayer vigil in the communist country.

Ben Stocking, the Hanoi bureau chief for The Associated Press, was released from police custody after about 2 1/2 hours and required four stitches on the back of his head. His camera was confiscated by police.

“They told me I was taking pictures in a place that I was not allowed to be taking pictures. But it was news, and I went in,” Stocking said by telephone from Hanoi.

Stocking, 49, was covering a demonstration by Catholic priests and church members at the site of the former Vatican Embassy in Hanoi, which is currently the subject of a land dispute between the church and city authorities.

The city had started to clear the site Friday after announcing a day earlier that it planned to use the land for a public library and park — a significant development in an already tense relationship between the church and state in Hanoi.

After Vietnam’s communist government took power in 1954, it confiscated property from many landowners, including the Catholic Church. The church says it has documents showing it has title to the land.

Within minutes of arriving at the prayer vigil, Stocking said, he was escorted away by plainclothes police who took his camera and punched and kicked him when he asked for it back.

Taken to a police station for questioning, Stocking tried to reach for his camera and an officer “banged me on the head with the camera and another police officer punched me in the face, straight on.” The blow from the camera opened a gash at the back of his head.

Transferred to another police station to give a written statement, Stocking was permitted to leave with a U.S. Embassy official to be taken to a medical clinic.

The AP is protesting the incident, seeking an apology from Vietnamese authorities involved and insisting on the return of Stocking’s property.

“It is an egregious incident of police abuse and unacceptable treatment of a journalist by any civilized government authority,” said John Daniszewski, the AP’s managing editor for international news. “Ben Stocking was doing his job in a calm, reasonable and professional manner when he was escorted away and violently assaulted.”

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Angela Aggeler said a formal statement of protest was filed with the Foreign Ministry.

The Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to e-mail and telephone requests by the AP seeking comment.

Violence is rare against international journalists in Vietnam, which has strict controls that govern press activities and travel. Foreign media have to register with the Foreign Ministry and get permission to go to remote provinces.

The first portion of Stocking’s arrest was captured by an anonymous cameraman and posted on YouTube.

The Associated Press: AP reporter detained, beaten by police in Vietnam

Vietnam Cracks Down on Dissent

Police are using checkpoints, interrogation, and threats to quash protests in Vietnam.

Vietnamese plainclothes police arrest student demonstrator, ending a brief anti-China protest on 29 April 2008.  (AFP)

HANOI, Vietnam: Vietnamese plainclothes police arrest student demonstrator, ending a brief anti-China protest on 29 April 2008. (AFP)

BANGKOK—Authorities in Vietnam have detained dozens of rights activists and anti-Chinese protesters in recent days, interrogating some while confining others to their homes or neighborhoods.

Several activists, including writer Nguyen Xuan Nghia, college student Ngo Quynh, Pham Van Troi, and Nguyen Van Tuc, have been arrested. Others, including Phan Thanh Nghien, poet Tran Duc Thach, Nghe An, and schoolteacher Vu Hung, have been continually summoned to “working sessions” with police.

“Presently, police are installing checkpoints and cordoning off my home to prevent me from attending a demonstration,” activist Nguyen Ba Dang said.

‘Working session’

Meanwhile, democracy activist Do Duy Thong was also summoned to a “working session” last weekend, his wife Ho Thi Ba said from the couple’s home near the capital, Hanoi.

“On Sept. 13, more than 10 men from the Thuong Tin district police department under Ha Tay province arrived at our home to demand that my husband report to a ‘working session,’” she said. “He had been previously forcibly taken in for questioning. His camera and mobile phone were confiscated [without being returned].”

Protesters had planned to march to the Chinese embassy Sept. 14 to protest Beijing’s claim over the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

“Around 11 a.m., when I just finished cooking I asked them to allow him to have lunch before leaving, but he was instructed to report immediately to the session and have lunch later. I pleaded to them that because the meal was ready he should be allowed to have lunch. Also, he wasn’t guilty and he wouldn’t finish the session until late in the afternoon,” Ho Thi Ba said.

‘Accident’ threatened

Nguyen Ba Dang, based in the northern province of Hai Duong, said he had been threatened with arrest if he left his neighborhood and with attack through a road “accident” staged by criminal gangs.

He said he had been approached by officials right up to provincial government level.

“It’s the Nam Trung village police, then the Nam Sach district police, and finally the Hai Duong province police. Also, it was the staff of the Information and Indoctrination Department of Hai Duong province that came to my home with a threat that I not leave my locality,” he said.

Hanoi-based Nguyen Phuong Anh reported a similar experience.

“What happened to me was that they threatened to cause me a traffic accident if I left tomorrow, Sept. 14,” to attend a demonstration outside the Chinese embassy over the territorial dispute surrounding the Spratly and Paracel Islands, Anh said.

“My son, a fourth grader, was later hit in a staged motorcycle accident around 4 p.m. this afternoon, Sept. 13,” he said.

“It was the police who advised me not to leave home. They’ve already threatened me as they did to poet Xuan Quynh-Luu Quang Vu. Look! There are six, seven men being posted in front of my house,” he added. The condition of his injured son wasn’t immediately known.


Ha Tay-based Vu Hung, who was dismissed from his job as a high school physics teacher two months ago because of his contacts with Vietnamese democracy activists, was sent to hospital after his “working sessions” with police.

“Now I am very exhausted from being constantly interrogated by the police. Presently, they’re keeping a tight lid on the information about me as I am closely guarded,” Vu Hung said.

“All that I want to say in these difficult circumstances is that everyone, college students in particular, should focus on carrying out the demonstration plan successfully. I won’t be allowed to leave home even I really want to.”

Protest was trigger

Students who planned to attend the Sept. 14 demonstration said it was the trigger for the arrests.

“They arrested and detained the people fighting for democracy and human rights as these people were preparing for the protest on Sept. 14,” one student said.

“This action goes to show that the state is afraid of the subject of democracy and freedom in Vietnam. The Vietnamese authorities’ action goes against the constitution of Vietnam. But that is not unusual in Vietnamese society.”

“They don’t want the activists to have the opportunity to inform the people how the state is being oppressive and totalitarian, of what democracy and human rights mean for Vietnam,” the student said.

“These actions actually made us youth more determined to attend the protest to let the state know that we, the younger generation, are not cowards. We don’t bow to force, and we don’t accept the humiliation of losing our land and our territorial waters,” he added.

Rights criticism

Overseas rights groups slammed the detentions, which coincided with the visit of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte for bilateral talks on security issues, economic ties, and human rights.

“Vietnam’s government is well-known for having zero tolerance for free expression,” Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on the group’s Web site.

“The current wave of arrests of democracy activists is a thinly veiled effort by the government to silence independent bloggers, journalists, and human rights defenders in Vietnam,” she said.

Human Rights Watch called for the immediate release from prison of a prominent internet writer and activist, Nguyen Van Hai, known by his pen name Dieu Cay, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison on Sept. 10.

Following Dieu Cay’s closed-door trial, police detained and interrogated at least a dozen other democracy activists, bloggers, and human rights defenders, it said.

Many of the activists detained this week, like Dieu Cay, have participated in protests against China’s claims to the disputed Spratly [in Vietnamese, Truong Sa] and Paracel [Hoang Sa] islands.

Original reporting in Vietnamese by Viet Hung and Hien Vy. Vietnamese service director: Diem Nguyen. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Vietnam Cracks Down on Dissent

Vietnam police suspended after video shows them taking bribes

(dpa) – Four Hanoi police officers were suspended from duty just hours after a local news website posted a video clip showing them taking bribes from motorists who had violated traffic laws, a police official said Monday.

The police department of Hanoi’s Ba Dinh district suspended the four officers, members of the district’s emergency response force, on Monday morning, according to Pham Van Binh, deputy chief of the department.

“We decided to suspend them for what they did and we have launched an investigation into the case,” Binh said.

Earlier Monday morning, the news website posted a video clip showing four policemen taking money from people who had violated traffic regulations before letting them go, without issuing traffic tickets or reporting the violations. The clip was filmed Friday, according to the website.

In the clip, the police are shown stopping motorbike drivers not wearing helmets or going the wrong direction on one-way streets. They then accept money from the drivers before letting them go.

The website said the motorbike drivers had paid the officers up to 300,000 dong (18 dollars) each.

According to Vietnamese traffic laws, riding the wrong way on a one-way street or failing to a wear a helmet when riding a motorbike is subject to a cash fine of 200,000 dong (12.5 dollars). Police can also seize violators’ motorbikes for 30 days.〈=EN

Hanoi police launch investigation into land dispute with church

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – Police in Hanoi have launched a criminal investigation into a land dispute with the Catholic Church, while state-run media on Tuesday accused church leaders of abusing their power to incite followers to confront the communist government.

Catholic parishioners and priests have been holding daily vigils for the past month at the site, a block away from St. Joseph’s Cathedral in downtown Hanoi. They are praying, singing and holding candles while demanding the handing over of the land, which was taken by the government nearly four decades ago.
Thousands of followers blocked the street Friday in the largest gathering, as many from outside Hanoi came for the celebrations for the 90th birthday of Cardinal Pham Dinh Tung. It was a rare scene in Vietnam, which typically does not tolerate any form of dissent.
The parishioners removed the iron gates to the 1-hectare property, which housed the Vatican embassy until 1954 when the communists defeated French colonialists. They also planted a giant cross at the building’s entrance and set up tents on the grounds.
Their actions have violated Vietnamese laws, the New Hanoi newspaper reported Tuesday.
Police in Hoan Kiem district, where the property is located, on Saturday decided to launch an investigation into the crimes of damaging property, causing social disorder and obstructing officials from doing their duties, it said.

District police were not available for comment Tuesday.

The paper accused Hanoi’s church leaders of instigating followers to confront authorities.
«What are they pursuing when they are ruthless (in pushing) Catholic followers to confront the government?» the newspaper asked, referring to the Hanoi church leaders.

«Abusing the belief and trust of followers to turn them into their instruments for their own goals, they have gone counter to God’s teachings,» it said.

Church leaders have said they only want the land returned and are not advocating that parishioners clash with the government. Instead, they maintain the followers are holding peaceful vigils.