The Associated Press
Published: May 13, 2008
HANOI, Vietnam: Vietnamese authorities have arrested two journalists who reported aggressively on a major gambling and bribery scandal that prompted the resignation of the transportation minister, state media reported Tuesday.
The two journalists were taken into police custody Monday and accused of reporting “false information” on the case, in which ministry employees gambled millions of dollars on European soccer matches, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported Tuesday.
The case led to the conviction of nine people, including several government officials, and the resignation of Transport Minister Dao Dinh Binh. Gambling is illegal in Vietnam.
Nguyen Van Hai, 33, of Tuoi Tre and Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, of Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper, were accused of “abuse of power and authority” for their reporting on the case, which first surfaced in late 2005, Tuoi Tre reported.
The specifics of the charges against the two remained unclear Tuesday.
While Vietnam is opening up economically, the case underscores the communist government’s determination to direct the flow of information in the state-controlled media.
Police, government officials and newspaper executives were unavailable for comment Tuesday, but both newspapers printed articles saying their reporters had done nothing wrong.
“These arrests really stunned the journalism community,” wrote Bui Thanh, deputy editor of Tuoi Tre. “They are saddened and indignant.”
Thanh said the arrests were a “mockery of justice.”
Thanh Nien quoted Chien as saying just before his arrest: “My only crime was to actively fight against corruption. I will fight to the end to defend the righteousness of my cause.”
The scandal was first uncovered in late 2005 when Bui Tien Dung, the director of a Ministry of Transportation project management unit, was arrested for spending millions of dollars betting on European soccer games.
He was convicted of gambling and bribery and sentenced to 13 years in prison in a trial last August while eight others, including former government officials and police officers, received jail terms up seven years for gambling or bribery or both.
Tuoi Tre and Thanh Nien, two of Vietnam’s most popular newspapers, were among the most aggressive in covering the scandal.
Tuoi Tre reported Tuesday that over the past year, dozens of local journalists have been summoned by police questioning where they obtained information on the case that authorities claimed was incorrect.