HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Two Vietnamese journalists will go on trial next week for allegedly writing inaccurate stories about one of the country’s most high-profile corruption cases, an official said Friday.
Media groups have called for the release of the two journalists, Nguyen Van Hai and Nguyen Viet Chien, saying their arrests will discourage reporting on official wrongdoing.
The two, whose trial in the Hanoi People’s Court begins Tuesday, have been charged with “abusing freedom and democracy,” an offense that carries a maximum jail sentence of seven years, said Nguyen Viet Hung, the court’s chief administrator. The trial could last two days, he said.
Hai and Chien, who work for two of the country’s largest newspapers, are known for aggressive reporting on corruption.
They were arrested May 12 for unspecified inaccuracies in their reporting on a scandal at the Transportation Ministry that erupted in 2005.
Two police officers who allegedly provided information to the two journalists also will be tried on charges of “deliberately revealing state secrets,” Hung said.
The scandal led to the conviction of nine people accused of betting millions of dollars on European football matches with money embezzled from a unit of the ministry that managed major road and bridge construction 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. However, the charges against him were suddenly dropped in March, six weeks before the journalists’ arrests.
Immediately after their detention, Vietnam’s state-controlled media demanded their release in unusually strong terms. But since then, with the government clamping down, news of the case has been largely muzzled.
The case has stirred deep concern among Vietnamese journalists and bloggers, who say it will discourage reporters from aggressively reporting on corruption, one of Vietnam’s most serious problems.
The Paris-based watchdog group Reporters without Borders urged the government Friday to immediately release the two journalists.
“By putting Nguyen Viet Chien and Nguyen Van Hai on trial, the authorities have chosen to revenge themselves on daring journalists who revealed embarrassing cases and brought greater freedom to the Vietnamese press,” the group said in a statement.