Friday, September 19, 2008

In Hanoi, the Watch Continues

While the vigil continues outside the former nunciature in Hanoi following yesterday's move by the Vietnamese authorities to raze it, tensions escalated later in the day as an American journalist covering the scene was beaten by police:
Ben Stocking, the Hanoi bureau chief for The Associated Press, was released from police custody Friday after about 2½ 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 said plainclothes police escorted him away from the prayer vigil, took his camera and punched and kicked him when he asked for it back.

Stocking said he was taken to a police station for questioning, where an officer «banged me on the head with the camera and another police officer punched me in the face, straight on.

On Saturday, Vietnam's Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung denied that Vietnamese authorities beat Stocking.

«There was no beating of Mr. Ben Stocking by the Vietnamese security force,» read a statement attributed to 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.

Pictures taken by AP photographers show a bloody gash on Stocking's head with dried blood caked on his neck....

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

The AP is protesting the incident, seeking an apology from Vietnamese authorities involved and insisting on the return of Stocking's property.
The crackdown's also bled into the nation's schools, with the children of demonstrators keeping watch at government-seized church property being threatened with possible grade-penalties, expulsion or, for those spotted at the sites, even arrest.

It's worth noting that the Hanoi church recently sealed a sister-diocese agreement with the diocese of Orange; just last month, Archbishop Joseph Ngo Kiet visited the SoCal see, whose prominent Vietnamese diaspora is led by the nation's first Vietnamese-American bishop, auxiliary Dominic Luong.

Meanwhile, in India, a nun recently beaten by police amid a violent outbreak of Hindu extremism in the country's southwest said her experience helped her appreciate the persecution suffered by earlier generations and what it means to "stand up for the faith."

PHOTO: AP/Chinose Suzuki