HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A Vietnamese dissident said Wednesday that suspected government agents assaulted him and his wife this week as they were heading to a meeting with an Australian diplomat to talk about the human rights situation in the country.
While harassment and intimidation of activists are common in Vietnam, the fact that Nguyen Bac Truyen and his wife were targeted on their way to meet with a diplomat angered Western embassies and represents an escalation in the campaign to silence critics.
The Australian Embassy said in a statement that it was very concerned about the incident and would discuss it with Vietnam's government.
Truyen said four men on motorbikes with no licenses plates dragged him and his wife from a taxi on Monday and punched them. He proceeded to meet with the diplomat, who took him to a hospital for treatment for facial injuries.
He said he had been followed by the men since his arrival at Hanoi's airport on Sunday and alleged that the men were connected to government security forces.
"They probably beat me to stop me from talking to embassy officials about human rights in Vietnam," Truyen said.
The Vietnamese government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Vietnam's government is under international pressure to respect basic human rights such as free speech and political assembly, but still maintains a tight grip on its citizens. Activists are regularly arrested for peaceful opposition to Communist rule.
Truyen, 46, was released from prison in May 2010 after serving 3 1/2 years for spreading anti-state propaganda. He came to Hanoi this week from his home in the south of the country to meet with Western diplomats to talk about his experiences.
Several Western nations have diplomats assigned to monitor Vietnam's human rights situation. To do their job, they must talk with dissidents, who often play a cat-and-mouse game with authorities to get to the meetings.