HANOI - Vietnamese authorities have promised to respond to two reporters who said they were beaten by uniformed police at a land protest last month on the outskirts of Hanoi. Video images of the alleged beating have spread like wildfire across the Internet.
Nguyen Ngoc Nam and Han Phi Long, both journalists at state-run radio station Radio Voice of Vietnam, went public this week with allegations that they were attacked as they watched farmers protest land clearance for a new satellite city in Hung Yen province.
Amateur video of alleged beatings
A week after Voice of Vietnam sent an official document to Hung Yen's Public Security Department demanding answers, a report in Tuoi Tre newspaper said provincial communist party leader Bui Huy Thanh has promised to hold a meeting with the journalists to discuss the alleged attack.
Witnesses at the scene on April 24 said about 1,000 policemen used tear gas to disperse 3,000 protesting farmers. State-run media reported that 20 people were arrested.
In interviews with local media, Nam said he repeatedly told his attackers that he was a journalist but they continued to hit him and twist his arms. He was then handcuffed and taken into custody.
Anti-corruption activist Le Hien Duc was at the protest and says she believes the clips on the Internet of the attack on the two men are real. The level of violence was shocking, she says, adding she saw with her own eyes police beating farmers at the protest like rats.
The incident comes just a few months after Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung praised the media for detailed coverage of a separate incident when a farmer used land mines and guns to fend off a land eviction in Hai Phong province. The incident drew national headlines and a tide of public sympathy for the farmer's stand.
When it came to the protest in Van Giang, however, reporting was markedly muted.
Some local journalists said they had been given guidance not to include key details about the event, including how many protesters were there and the reaction from police.
Media analyst Le Ngoc Son from the Institute of Information Technology and Media says the video clips have disturbed the public.
"If this clip is real, the actions of the police have made the viewers feel discontented," said Son. "Obviously, this is the behavior of hooligans, but the behavior of the ones who should be protecting the law."
In Hai Phong, local reporters dug up valuable information on the land eviction which led to a high-profile investigation into corruption. It is not yet clear whether the new wave of coverage related to the incident outside Hanoi will reap something similar.
At the center of the protest outside the capital is a planned satellite city, which covers 500 hectares. It is being lauded as an important development project, providing jobs and better infrastructure for the capital. However, that has been tainted by the level of force used to control the protesters and the lack of open media coverage.
In the short term, Son says the alleged beating of the two journalists highlights the need to protect on-the-scene reporters.
"Journalists need to be protected not only in words but in real action," Son added. "If the story is absolutely like the report of the two VOV reporters press freedom is now seriously violated by the security powers."
Local authorities and Voice of Vietnam are expected to hold talks next Wednesday about the incident. However land rights activists worry that the fate of the 20 farmers arrested at the protest will not receive the same attention as the journalists.