Nguyen Viet Chien was defiant in court
A court in Vietnam has sentenced a journalist to two years in jail for his reporting on a major corruption case.
Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, insisted he was innocent minutes before judge Tran Van Vy delivered the verdict.
Another journalist who had pleaded guilty was deemed to have served out a suspended sentence and freed.
The case has attracted criticism from abroad, with one human rights group calling it “revenge” against daring journalists revealing state corruption.
Two former police officers who were also on trial on related charges received respectively a year in jail and an official warning.
The case relates to a corruption scandal in Vietnam’s ministry of transport that first came to light in 2006.
Both journalists vigorously pursued the story, which claimed several high-level scalps, but their reportage was later condemned by authorities as inaccurate and harmful.
Nguyen Van Hai, from Tuoi Tre newspaper, pleaded guilty at the day-and-a-half long trial at the Hanoi People’s Court.
He asked for leniency while accepting that some of his reports contained errors, saying his mistakes were “professional accidents”.
I never have any other purpose in mind when writing my reports but exposing wrongdoing and fighting corruption
Nguyen Viet Chien
At the end, the court gave him two years of re-education without detention for “co-operating with investigators and showing remorse”.
Nguyen Viet Chien, from Thanh Nien newspaper, meanwhile always maintained his innocence.
The two journalists were arrested in May for “abusing their professional power and position”. The charge was changed last month to “abusing freedom and democratic rights”.
The two former police officers, Maj Gen Pham Xuan Quac and Senior Lt Col Dinh Van Huynh, were charged with “deliberately disclosing investigative secrets”. Dinh Van Huynh was sentenced to one year in prison while Maj Gen Pham Xuan Quac received an official warning.
Appearing in court, Nguyen Viet Chien appeared thinner and greyer but retained a combative spirit.
The plight of the two well-known and respected journalists has shocked their families
He insisted that he only ran information provided by trustworthy official sources and that, being a veteran correspondent with 20 years’ experience, he always cross-checked his stories.
“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 said.
His son, Nguyen Tuan, said he was “extremely disappointed with the verdict. My father has fought against corruption until the end, he doesn’t deserve this sentence”.
Media watchdog Reporters without Borders has condemned the trial, calling it the Vietnamese government’s “revenge” against “daring journalists who revealed embarrassing cases and brought greater freedom to the Vietnamese press”.