A Vietnamese journalist has been jailed for two years after he exposed how senior officials were embezzling money then gambling it on the English Premier League.
By Thomas Bell, South East Asia Correspondent
Last Updated: 3:49PM BST 15 Oct 2008
The Court found Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, guilty of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state”. Another journalist, Nguyen Van Hai, 33, was sentenced to two years of re-education without detention after he showed remorse for his crimes.
The two reporters helped expose how millions of pounds worth foreign development funds meant for bridges and roads were being stolen by transport ministry officials and gambled on English football.
In 2006 the transport minister, Dao Dinh Binh, was forced to resign and his deputy, Nguyen Viet Tun, was arrested but later cleared of all charges. Eight lesser officials were ultimately convicted and jailed.
The judge, Tran Van Vy, said that Chien had “damaged the prestige of some high-ranking officials and caused negative public opinion”.
The press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders said the government was taking “revenge” against two “daring journalists who revealed embarrassing cases”.
Also on trial were the reporters alleged sources, retired police General Pham Xuan Quac, 62, who received only an official warning, and Lt Col Dinh Van Huynh, 50, who was jailed for one year.
Analysts say that Vietnam’s communist regime is in the midst of firm action against the media and on internal dissent as it struggles to maintain its authority while the economy falters.
Inflation is at 28 per cent and growth in the country’s export-led economy is declining – and may decline even faster if there is a recession in the West. The economic pain is causing labour unrest across Vietnam and growing public disquiet about corruption.
Even one of the country’s greatest communist heroes, General Vo Nguyen Giap, who led the North Vietnamese army against the Americans latched on to corruption scandal in the transport ministry to call the Communist Party itself “a shield for corrupt officials”.
An anti-corruption campaign by prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung has been widely as lacklustre.
As it struggles to respond to the burgeoning economic crisis and the threat to its authority which the situation represents, the Communist Party’s influential Central Committee has met three times this year, instead of the usual two meetings. Observers interpret that as a sign of official alarm.
It is against this background that Vietnam has detained several journalists in recent months and police even briefly detained and assaulted the American bureau chief for Associated Press as he covered highly sensitive protests during September.