HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Prosecutors on Tuesday sought a jail sentence of up to two and a half years for a Vietnamese journalist on trial for allegedly writing inaccurate stories about one of the country’s most high-profile corruption cases.
Reporter Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, was charged with “abusing freedom and democracy.” Another reporter, Nguyen Van Hai, 33, is facing the same charge. Both journalists are known for their aggressive reporting on corruption for two of Vietnam’s most popular newspapers.
Prosecutors recommended that Chien be jailed for between two years and two and a half years. They asked Hai be given up to two years’ probation.
Media watchdog groups have called for the journalists’ release and said their arrests will discourage reporting on official wrongdoing.
“The trial will be a crucial test for press freedom and the struggle against corruption in Vietnam,” Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said last week.
Two police officers, including the chief investigator in the corruption case, also went on trial Tuesday on charges of “deliberately revealing state secrets” for allegedly providing information to the two journalists.
Prosecutors have asked for up to two years’ probation for the chief investigator, police Maj. Gen. Pham Xuan Quac. They sought a jail sentence of up to two and a half years for the other officer.
Hai and Chien were arrested in May for reporting on a 2005 scandal in which officials at a division of the Transportation Ministry were accused of gambling with funds allegedly embezzled from infrastructure projects.
Prosecutors accused the journalists of publishing false information, including that an executive involved in the case bribed officials with $500,000 in an attempted cover-up.
Chien told the court that he had assumed the information was accurate.
“I received the information from police officials investigating the case,” he said. “I therefore assumed that it was real.”
Hai testified that he did not intend to violate the law.
“I really did not deliberately abuse freedom and democracy,” he said. “It was only a professional accident.”
Nine people have been convicted of betting millions of dollars on European football matches with money allegedly taken from a unit of the Transportation 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 a deputy minister. However, charges against the deputy minister were suddenly dropped in March, and the journalists were arrested six weeks later.
Newspapers initially condemned the reporters’ arrests, but the government quickly clamped down on the state-controlled media and very little information has since been publicized about them.
The ruling Communist Party says fighting corruption is one of its top priorities.
Foreign media and diplomats are being allowed to follow the court proceedings via closed-circuit television.
The Associated Press: Vietnam tries 2 journalists for corruption reports