Vietnam charges 2 journalists over false reports

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Two journalists will go on trial after being charged with reporting false information about one of Vietnam’s most high-profile corruption cases, state media reported Tuesday.

Reporters Nguyen Van Hai and Nguyen Viet Chien were charged formally with “abusing freedom and democracy,” an offense that carries a maximum jail sentence of seven years. The two are known for aggressive reporting on corruption at two of the country’s largest and most respected dailies.

Two police officers who provided information to the journalists will also be tried on charges of “deliberately revealing state secrets,” the Nguoi Lao Dong (Laborer) newspaper said.

The trials could start within two weeks at the Hanoi People’s Court, it said.

Security agents jailed the two journalists on May 12 citing unspecified inaccuracies in their reporting on a major scandal at Vietnam’s transportation ministry that erupted in 2005.

The case led to the conviction of nine people accused of illegally betting millions of dollars on European football matches with money embezzled from a unit of the ministry that managed major road and bridge building projects.

The unit received substantial funding from the World Bank and the Japanese government.

The case prompted the transportation minister to resign and led to the arrest of the deputy minister, although the charges against him were dropped in March.

The Nguoi Lao Dong report said one of the policemen charged with revealing state secrets is Gen. Pham Xuan Quac, the scandal’s chief investigator.

Prosecutors and officials at Vietnam Journalists Association were not available for comment Tuesday.

Source: AP

Vietnam alleges beaten AP photographer broke law

Associated Press reporter Ben Stocking sits in a hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam, Friday, Sept. 19, 2008. Stocking, APs Hanoi bureau chief, said he was punched, choked and hit over the head with a camera by police who detained him Friday while he covered a Catholic prayer vigil in the communist country. Stocking was released from police custody after about two and half hours and required four stitches on the back of his head. His camera was confiscated by police. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

Associated Press reporter Ben Stocking sits in a hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam, Friday, Sept. 19, 2008. Stocking, AP's Hanoi bureau chief, said he was punched, choked and hit over the head with a camera by police who detained him Friday while he covered a Catholic prayer vigil in the communist country. Stocking was released from police custody after about two and half hours and required four stitches on the back of his head. His camera was confiscated by police. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — The Vietnamese government said Saturday that an Associated Press journalist was violating its laws when he photographed a demonstration by land protesters in Hanoi, but sought to deny that he was beaten while in police custody.

AP Hanoi Chief of Bureau Ben Stocking emerged from a police station Friday with matted blood on his head and trousers, and a gash in his head requiring four stitches. He reported that he had been choked, punched and bashed with his own camera — the last assault opening a cut in his scalp that bled profusely. After his 2 1/2 hours in detention, he immediately had to seek treatment at a private clinic for the head injury.

Nevertheless, a foreign ministry statement disputed that there had been a beating.

“There was no beating of Mr. Ben Stocking by the Vietnamese security force,” read the statement attributed to Foreign Ministry spokesman Le 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.”

The Associated Press stands by Stocking’s account that he was assaulted and said that there was no evidence that Stocking had broken any law. It has called the treatment of him “unacceptable” and an “egregious incident of police abuse.”

A video taken by an unknown cameraman and posted on YouTube showed the first part of Stocking’s detention.

Before he was escorted away by a plainclothes officer and put into a choke hold, the video shows Stocking calmly standing next to a police officer in broad daylight routinely photographing the protest, which involved a long-running dispute by Roman Catholics seeking the return of what had been church land.

He offers no resistance when asked to step away and is dressed in a dark shirt and clean white trousers.

(AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

(AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

Photographs taken by the AP of him after his release a few hours later showed blood on his clothing and caking his neck and hair.

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

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists in May cited the Vietnamese government for a “recent spate of arrests, detentions, and trials of journalists in Vietnam” that it said contradicted the country’s constitutional provision that “broadly protects press freedom and freedom of expression.”

The Associated Press: Vietnam alleges beaten AP photographer broke law

More information and video of arrest

Viet police ‘punched’ journalist

HANOI – MEDIA rights group Reporters without Borders has denounced the ‘arrest and mistreatment’ of an American journalist covering a protest in Vietnam.

The Associated Press accused Vietnamese police of punching its Hanoi bureau chief Ben Stocking in the face as he tried to cover a demonstration in the capital Hanoi on Friday.

Police took his camera and, when he asked for it back, hit him on the head with it and punched him, the AP said in a report from Bangkok published on the Internet.

He then spent two and a half hours in a police station before being taken to a clinic where he had four stitches to his head.

‘Reporters Without Borders condemns the arrest and mistreatment of Associated Press Hanoi bureau chief Ben Stocking by police while he was covering a peaceful demonstration by Vietnamese Catholics,’ the group said in a statement.

The AP has asked the Vietnamese authorities to apologise and return Mr Stocking’s camera, it said.

Vietnam denied the allegations.

‘Ben Stocking has violated Vietnam’s laws by intentionally trying to take photos at prohibited areas,’ said foreign ministry spokesman Le Dung.

‘It is totally untrue that Mr Ben Stocking was beaten by Vietnamese security forces.’

The US embassy in Vietnam said it had lodged a protest with the government over the incident, which took place during a protest by Catholic priests, monks and nuns against government construction work on land claimed by the Church.

‘We strongly object to any aggressive actions being taken against any individuals American or otherwise who is observing or participating in a peaceful gathering,’ an embassy spokeswoman told AFP.

‘We have protested the incident to the government.’ — AFP

Viet police ‘punched’ journalist

More information and video of arrest

Police detain, beat Associated Press reporter in Vietnam

New York, September 19, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the actions of Vietnamese police who assaulted Associated Press reporter Ben Stocking, after detaining him in Hanoi today. Police detained Stocking, AP’s Hanoi bureau chief, while he was covering a Catholic protest.

Anonymous video footage posted on YouTube shows two men obstructing Stocking as he tries to photograph a prayer vigil, which was staged in protest against city development of land claimed by the church. The men, one of whom wears a uniform, then lead the obviously unwilling journalist from the scene. The footage does not show the rest of the incident described in the report.

“This brutal police treatment of a working journalist is completely unwarranted,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “Journalists should be free to report civil unrest in Vietnam without fear of violence from the authorities.”

In the AP story, Stocking says police confiscated his camera then punched and kicked him when he asked for it back. He also says they hit him in the head with his camera when he reached for it at the police station where he was later taken for questioning, opening a wound which required four stitches.

The AP said it will protest the incident and that the U.S. Embassy had filed a formal protest. Stocking was allowed to leave police custody with an embassy official to seek medical treatment, the report said.

It was not clear whether police obstructed other reporters at the protest site.

CPJ News Alert 2008

More information and video of arrest

Officials in Vietnam deny beating AP reporter

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — Vietnamese officials have denied beating an Associated Press reporter in Vietnam while he covered a Catholic prayer vigil in the communist country.

The denial comes a day after Ben Stocking, the Hanoi bureau chief for The Associated Press, was released from police custody after about 2 1/2 hours and required four stitches on the back of his head. His camera was confiscated by police.

Vietnam’s foreign ministry spokesman Le Dung posted a statement Saturday on the ministry’s web site that said, “Stocking broke the Vietnamese law by deliberately taking pictures at a place where taking pictures was not allowed.”

“There was no beating of Mr. Ben Stocking by the Vietnamese security force,” the statement said.

The Associated Press: Officials in Vietnam deny beating AP reporter

More information and video of arrest

AP reporter violates Vietnam’s laws: spokesman

10:55′ 20/09/2008 (GMT+7)

Foreign Ministry spokeman Le Dung

VietNamNet Bridge – Vietnam Foreign Ministry spokeman denied accusations that an AP reporter had been beaten, but reiterated that the foreign reporter has violated the country’s laws.

“According to reports that we have received, Ben Stocking has violated Vietnam’s laws by intentionally taking photos at prohibited areas,” spokeman Le Dung said when he was asked for the reasons why AP reported Ben Stocking had been arrested for two hours and beaten by the police on September 19.

Dung also said security guards had told the reporter not to take photos but he refused to comply with.

“It is totally untrue that Mr Ben Stocking was beaten by Vietnamese police force,” the spokesman affirmed.

(Source: VNA)

VietNamNet – AP reporter violates Vietnam’s laws: spokesman

More information and video of arrest

AP reporter detained, beaten by police in Vietnam

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — An Associated Press reporter in Vietnam was punched, choked and hit over the head with a camera by police who detained him Friday while he covered a Catholic prayer vigil in the communist country.

Ben Stocking, the Hanoi bureau chief for The Associated Press, was released from police custody after about 2 1/2 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, 49, was covering a demonstration by Catholic priests and church members at the site of the former Vatican Embassy in Hanoi, which is currently the subject of a land dispute between the church and city authorities.

The city had started to clear the site Friday after announcing a day earlier that it planned to use the land for a public library and park — a significant development in an already tense relationship between the church and state in Hanoi.

After Vietnam’s communist government took power in 1954, it confiscated property from many landowners, including the Catholic Church. The church says it has documents showing it has title to the land.

Within minutes of arriving at the prayer vigil, Stocking said, he was escorted away by plainclothes police who took his camera and punched and kicked him when he asked for it back.

Taken to a police station for questioning, Stocking tried to reach for his camera and an officer “banged me on the head with the camera and another police officer punched me in the face, straight on.” The blow from the camera opened a gash at the back of his head.

Transferred to another police station to give a written statement, Stocking was permitted to leave with a U.S. Embassy official to be taken to a medical clinic.

The AP is protesting the incident, seeking an apology from Vietnamese authorities involved and insisting on the return of Stocking’s property.

“It is an egregious incident of police abuse and unacceptable treatment of a journalist by any civilized government authority,” said John Daniszewski, the AP’s managing editor for international news. “Ben Stocking was doing his job in a calm, reasonable and professional manner when he was escorted away and violently assaulted.”

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Angela Aggeler said a formal statement of protest was filed with the Foreign Ministry.

The Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to e-mail and telephone requests by the AP seeking comment.

Violence is rare against international journalists in Vietnam, which has strict controls that govern press activities and travel. Foreign media have to register with the Foreign Ministry and get permission to go to remote provinces.

The first portion of Stocking’s arrest was captured by an anonymous cameraman and posted on YouTube.

The Associated Press: AP reporter detained, beaten by police in Vietnam

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