The State Department says it has lodged a strong protest with the Vietnamese government over an apparent police assault on a U.S. diplomat in Vietnam.  The U.S. official had tried to visit a prominent Vietnamese dissident in the central city of Hue.

The State Department says it has lodged protests with the Vietnamese foreign ministry in Hanoi and Vietnam?s embassy in Washington, over the incident in which the U.S. diplomat was injured in an altercation with police in Hue.

US Protests Assault on Diplomat in Vietnam
US Protests Assault on Diplomat in Vietnam

Officials here are still gathering details of the incident, but say U.S. embassy political officer Christian Marchant was roughed up by police as he tried to pay a call on Roman Catholic priest and dissident figure Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, who is under house arrest in Hue.

Press reports from Hanoi said the U.S. embassy official had a car door repeatedly slammed on his legs as he attempted to visit Ly, one of Vietnam?s best-known dissident figures.

At a news briefing, the State Department?s acting deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Marchant sustained minor injuries and was walking with a limp after the Wednesday incident.

"There was an incident and a U.S. diplomat, Christian Marchant was injured. Not seriously, but he was injured in that incident," explained Toner. "We have officially registered a strong protest with the Vietnamese government in Hanoi as well as with the Vietnamese ambassador here in Washington.  And we are waiting for a full explanation of what happened."

The U.S. embassy in Hanoi called the incident a matter of grave concern, and said host governments are responsible for the safety and security of diplomatic personnel under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

A Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the Hanoi government is looking into the matter, while adding that foreign diplomats have an obligation to abide by host-country laws.

The 63-year-old Ly was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2007 on charges of trying to undermine the communist Vietnamese government, but was released on medical parole last year and put under house arrest.

The United States has been a persistent critic of Vietnam?s human-rights record.

It has credited Vietnam with easing restrictions on religious groups, but the U.S. embassy in Hanoi said recently there has been an upsurge in arrests and convictions of people peacefully expressing political views.

U.S.-Vietnamese political contacts have lately intensified.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton?s trip to Vietnam in late October, for an east Asia summit, was her second visit to the country in four months.