HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A Vietnamese court sentenced a journalist to two years in prison on Wednesday, accusing him of writing inaccurate stories about one of the country’s most high-profile corruption cases.
Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, was convicted of “abusing freedom and democracy” at the end of a two-day trial at the Hanoi People’s Court.
Presiding Judge Tran Van Vy said before announcing the verdict that Chien had used fabricated information in his reports and that he “damaged the prestige of some high-ranking officials and caused negative public opinion.”
Fellow reporter Nguyen Van Hai, 33, was sentenced on the charges to two years of “re-education without detention,” under which his employers or local government officials will supervise education intended to make him a better citizen.
The newspaper reporters were arrested in May for writing about a 2005 scandal in which Transportation Ministry officials were accused of gambling with allegedly embezzled funds.
Chien and Hai were accused of publishing false information, including that an executive bribed officials with US$500,000 in an attempt to cover-up the scandal.
The case prompted the transportation minister to resign and led to the arrest of a deputy minister. Charges against the deputy minister were suddenly dropped in March, and the journalists were arrested six weeks later.
Chien maintained he was not guilty because he believed the information he used was genuine.
“All of my information came from police officials investigating the case,” Chien told the court before judges delivered their verdict. “It was hard to avoid mistakes at a time when all newspapers competed to report on a case that attracted huge attention from the public.”
Hai pleaded guilty and was given a lesser sentence for his “active cooperation with investigators and remorse,” Vy said.
Chien displayed no emotion when his sentencing was announced. His relatives cried outside the court house.
Hai burst into tears and hugged his wife in the court room after he was released.
Also standing trial, police Maj. Gen. Pham Xuan Quac and investigator Dinh Van Huynh were charged with “deliberately revealing state secrets,” for giving information to the journalists.
Quac, 62, who has retired, was given a warning, while Huynh was sentenced to one year in prison.