Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, October 16, 2008; Page A11
BANGKOK, Oct. 15 — A court in Vietnam has handed down a two-year prison sentence to a journalist who exposed a scandal involving Transport Ministry officials siphoning off aid money, in part to bet on European soccer matches.
Nguyen Viet Chien was convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state.” One of his sources, Lt. Col. Dinh Van Huynh, was given a one-year sentence for “deliberately revealing state secrets.
Chien was unrepentant during the trial.
“With my journalist conscience, I can say I never have any other purpose in mind when writing my reports but exposing wrongdoing and fighting corruption,” he told the court.
Another journalist, Nguyen Van Hai, who had admitted some errors, was given a two-year suspended sentence. The policeman who headed the corruption inquiry, Gen. Pham Xuan Quac, now retired, was given an official reprimand.
“It was a political trial. It was a trial of the liberal media,” said Vincent Brossel, Asia director for Reporters Without Borders.
The original corruption case was deeply embarrassing for the government. In a series of articles in 2006, Chien and Hai exposed a unit in the Ministry of Transport where officials had been embezzling funds meant for infrastructure development, much of it donated by the World Bank and Japan.
Nine members of the unit have been convicted in connection with the case.
The transport minister resigned, and a deputy minister was among those charged. However, the charges against the deputy minister were dropped in March, and the two journalists were arrested six weeks later.