Jailing of Viet journalist a blow for press freedom

The international press freedom advocacy group Reporters without Borders has condemned the jailing of a Vietnamese journalist for his coverage of a state corruption scandal.

The People’s Court of Hanoi sentenced the journalist to two years imprisonment and also jailed his police source for a year, saying they were both guilty of abusing democratic freedoms that infringed on the interests of the state. The journalist and another colleague had exposed the fact that foreign aid money destined for road building was being used by senior and middle ranking transport officials for gambling on english soccer matches. Reporters without Borders spokesman Vincent Brossel says the jailing of Nguyen Viet Chien of the Thanh Nien or Young People newspaper, is a blow to press freedom and a huge setback to the fight against corruption in Vietnam.

Presenter: Claudette Werden
Speaker: Vincent Brosse, Reporters without Borders

BROSSEL: It’s really unfair and it sends a negative signal for press freedom in Vietnam and the fight against corruption because they have been reporting about a huge case and they had been leading a new trend in the Vietnamese cycle to investigate and talk about social issues, corruption issues, environmental issues and to make the Vietnamese press more open. And now one of them is sentenced to two years jail, it is a long and very serious term only because he refused to plead guilty and the other one has been sentenced to re-education camp and will be released because he pleaded guilty, so it means there was huge pressure on them to apologise, plead guilty and make sure that the Vietnamese Communist party will feel that its controlling everything.

WERDEN: Its interesting because also jailed was the journalist’s police source, the person who gave the journalist the information, what signal does that send?

BROSSEL: It’s a signal to the civil servants and people who are inside the state and in some circumstances give information to the journalist and it’s exactly what the prosecutor said during the trial, that every information that is not authorised is a state secret, so it means that the journalist, the police people have been violating the law because they have been working together against corruption. Apart from this blow to press freedom, its also a big setback for the fight against corruption that is becoming a real big issue in Vietnam.

WERDEN: That’s an interesting point, anything that is not authorised, even though its exposing corruption.

BROSSEL : Exactly I mean its just a matter of legal interpretation, when information is given, it’s not a state secret so the journalists were right to publish, investigate and report and the police investigators were also very right to share information with the press because it was the only way to get enough pressure to arrest the top officials who were involved in this corruption scandal. And there is one important thing the money that was taken by these officials were coming from the World Bank and the Japanese government, so it means we don’t have any accountability about what is going on with the money the international community, Australia, European Union, World Bank are giving to Vietnam.

WERDEN: Are you aware of the outcome for those officials who were found out to be gambling with the aid money?

BROSSEL: Yeah middle level officials have been charged, and some of them have been put in jail but the deputy Minister has been released and he’s still free and it gives a very clear signal that the Communist party is ready to protect its own members, its high level members in any case and that corruption is so common that top officials can be cleared and protected.

Jailing of Viet journalist a blow for press freedom

Vietnam jails reporter who wrote about state corruption

A street newspaper vendor looks at the Hanoi Peoples Court

A street newspaper vendor looks at the Hanoi People's Court

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam jailed a reporter for two years Wednesday for his coverage of state corruption in a court case that has sent a chill through the communist country’s media industry.

The Hanoi court also imprisoned for one year a senior police officer who had provided information on the graft scandal to the media, but it allowed a police general and a second journalist to walk free.

Nguyen Thi Viet Hang (C), sister of reporter Nguyen Viet Chien, reacts to the court verdict

Nguyen Thi Viet Hang (C), sister of reporter Nguyen Viet Chien, reacts to the court verdict

The jailed reporter, Nguyen Viet Chien, almost three years ago helped pry open the graft case, which centred on a transport ministry unit whose officials had squandered foreign aid on gambling and high living.

The revelations led to a series of arrests and moved anti-corruption to the centre of government policy, while Vietnam earned international plaudits for allowing its state-controlled media unprecedented freedoms.

Then, in May of this year, police arrested two of the journalists who led the coverage of the explosive case — Chien of the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper, and Nguyen Van Hai of the Tuoi Tre (Youth) daily.

Nguyen Viet Chien

Nguyen Viet Chien

The deputy editors of the two popular papers were replaced and the Communist Party’s ideology committee has since revoked the press credentials of several more journalists who had jumped to their colleagues’ defence.

On Wednesday, the Hanoi People’s Court found both journalists guilty of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state.”

Chien, a 56-year-old award winning journalist who maintained his innocence throughout the two-day trial, was sentenced to two years in prison, a term that was backdated to the day of his arrest.

Nguyen Van Hai

Nguyen Van Hai

Hai, 33, who admitted to some unintended errors in his reporting and once during the hearings broke down in tears, received a more lenient two-year non-custodial term and was allowed to walk free.

The court also convicted the two senior police officers who had given information to the press during the 2005-2006 investigation into the transport ministry’s Project Management Unit (PMU) 18.

Retired police General Pham Xuan Quac, 62, who headed the investigation, received only an official warning, but Lieutenant Colonel Dinh Van Huynh, 50, was sentenced to one year’s jail, also including time served.

Prosecutors argued that the journalists’ reports contained errors and bias and had tarnished the image of officials, party cadres, Vietnam and its leadership, ahead of a five-yearly party congress in early 2006.

The judge, in sentencing, reiterated the prosecution case that “hostile forces, reactionaries and political opportunists” had taken advantage of the scandal to attack Vietnam’s state and party leadership.

Chien said that until his arrest he had never received a reprimand, defamation suit or complaint from a reader.

“When PMU 18 was discovered, the whole political system of this country was focused on the issue,” he added.

The scandal led to the 2006 resignation of then transport minister Dao Dinh Binh and the arrest of his deputy, Nguyen Viet Tien, while eight PMU 18 officials were later jailed for illegal gambling and corruption.

The deputy minister has since been freed and cleared of all charges.

Foreign diplomats and correspondents were allowed to follow the trial via closed-circuit television, while many more Vietnamese journalists waited on the street outside the court house.

A US embassy statement said the sentences “contradict the rights available to journalists under Vietnamese law and the verbal commitments of Vietnamese officials on freedom of the press.”

“These results are particularly worrisome in light of the serious corruption issues that their earlier investigations had brought to light,” it said.

“The United States has repeatedly called for full freedom of the media in Vietnam and urges the government of Vietnam to support these freedoms, which are so critical to combating social scourges such as corruption and abuse of power, and to the further economic development of Vietnam.”
AFP: Vietnam jails reporter who wrote about state corruption

Vietnamese media trial condemned


Two journalists, Nguyen Van Hai and Nguyen Viet Chien, and two police officers, Maj Gen Pham Xuan Quac and Senior Lt Col Dinh Van Huynh, go on trial in Hanoi on Tuesday over their involvement in the exposure of a high-profile corruption scandal

Rights groups worry the case could hamper media coverage of corruption


The US and media campaigners have
condemned the guilty verdicts on two Vietnamese journalists who helped
expose a big corruption scandal.

The journalists were convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms” and propagating “false information”.

The US embassy in Hanoi called the verdicts “disappointing” and
counterproductive in combating the “social scourge” of corruption.

Reporters Without Borders called the sentences “a terrible step backwards”.

One journalist, Nguyen Viet Chien, was jailed for
two years. The other, Nguyen Van Hai, pleaded guilty and was freed
after being deemed to have served his sentence.

Leaking information

In 2006, the two journalists helped expose a corruption scandal
in the transport ministry, which resulted in the resignation of the
minister and the arrest of several high-ranking officials.


[They] exploited their position as journalists to write sensitive, false information
Official indictment

But the tide appeared to turn against the journalists earlier this
year, as a deputy minister was cleared of wrongdoing over the matter,
and attention turned to alleged failures in the journalists’ coverage.

Two former police officers were also found guilty of leaking
information to the journalists and were punished – one receiving a year
in jail.

The verdicts “contradict the rights available to journalists
under Vietnamese law and the verbal commitments of Vietnamese officials
on freedom of the press”, said a spokesperson at the US embassy in
Hanoi.

“These results are particularly worrisome in light of the
serious corruption issues that their earlier investigations had brought
to light.”


You [Nguyen Viet Chien ] may be naive but your naivety makes me feel more confident about human nature
Linh, blogger

Media freedoms, the spokesperson said, were “critical to combating
social scourges such as corruption and abuse of power, and to the
further economic development of Vietnam”.

Meanwhile, the Paris-based organisation Reporters Without
Borders called the trial outcome a “terrible step backwards for
investigative journalism in Vietnam”.

“The fragile basis of a press capable of playing its role of
challenging established authority has been badly shaken,” the group
said.

Vietnamese commentators have also expressed sympathy with the journalists.

Linh, a blogger based in Michigan, US, addressed Nguyen Viet
Chien in one post: “You may be naive but your naivety makes me feel
more confident about human nature and that people are not always prone
to be defeated.”

‘False’ reports

According to the leaked official indictment, prosecutors accused
the two reporters of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the
interests of the state”.

This had “serious consequences, negatively affecting the
ideology, morale and psychology of the public at a sensitive point of
time” – a reference to the 10th Vietnamese Communist Party Congress in
April 2006, where new leaders were being elected.

Nguyen Viet Chien and Nguyen Van Hai “exploited their position
as journalists to write sensitive, false information… Hostile forces
took advantage to attack and distort the Party Congress, negatively
affecting the preparation of the congress”.


Hundreds of readers sent comments on this case to BBC Vietnamese.com. Here are a selection.

It is so sorry for this government as they call themselves a democratic state of the people (of Vietnam). This is just a slogan.

Tunbl, Hanoi

Unfortunately for the two journalists, the authorities take a
negative view on the way they had reported, so they fell in trouble. I
wish they should be released soon to unite with their families. I also
expect the National Assembly to issue a set of media rules so reporters
who are eager to fight corruption can do it without breaking the law.

NM, Hue, central Vietnam

I believe Mr Nguyen Viet Chien was a good Party member. He has
not done anything wrong during in his profession. So why he has been
given that sentence? How come the court could do that?… I want to
tell the Central Committee [of the Communist Party] that the number of
people who want to join your ranks is very modest. So stop doing this
to your members if you don’t want to lose support. This is so worrying
indeed.

abc

Mr Chien deserves to be named ‘journalist of honour’. I ask
thousands of his fellow journalists in more than 600 newspapers across
Vietnam ‘Do you feel ashamed?’ When your colleague bravely stood up to
defend himself before the court where the sentence had been decided
before you silently agree to be the servants of the Party.

di di nguyen Seattle, USA

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Vietnamese media trial condemned

VOA News – Vietnam Convicts Anti-Corruption Journalists of ‘Abusing Freedom’



15 October 2008

A Vietnamese court has convicted two journalists for their reporting on a prominent corruption case. The journalists had reported aggressively on a scandal involving millions of dollars in illegal gambling and embezzlement. Their arrests are seen as a sign that Vietnam is clamping down on freedom of the press. In Hanoi, Matt Steinglass has more.

A man standing in front of the Hanoi People's Court holds a copy of Thanh Nien daily, whose reporter Nguyen Viet Chien was sentenced to two years in prison, October 15, 2008
A man standing in front of the Hanoi People’s Court holds a copy of Thanh Nien daily, October 15, 2008

In early 2006, Nguyen Viet Chien and Nguyen Van Hai were top reporters at two of the most progressive newspapers in Vietnam. The country’s new prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, had called on the media to help the government root out corruption.

Chien and Hai took up the call. They wrote hard-hitting articles on what is called the PMU-18 affair, a scandal in which officials embezzled millions of dollars and bet it on European soccer matches. The scandal led to the resignation of the Transportation minister and the prosecution of a deputy minister for corruption.

But in March 2008, that deputy minister was acquitted. Six weeks later, Chien and Hai were arrested, along with two police investigators they had used as sources, General Pham Xuan Quac and Colonel Dinh Van Huynh.

Vietnamese journalists Nguyen Van Hai of the Tuoi Tre newspaper, back left, Nguyen Viet Chien of the Thanh Nien newspaper, back right, and police officers Dinh Van Huynh, front left, and Pham Xuan Quac, front right, at their trial in Hanoi, Oct. 15, 2008
Vietnamese journalists Nguyen Van Hai of the Tuoi Tre newspaper, back left, Nguyen Viet Chien of Thanh Nien newspaper, back right, and police officers Dinh Van Huynh, front left, and Pham Xuan Quac, front right, at their trial in Hanoi, Oct. 15, 2008

On Tuesday, they went on trial in Hanoi. Prosecutors said the articles were inaccurate and charged them with breaking a law that bars “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State.”

Hai acknowledged part of the charges. He said some of the information printed in his stories was wrong, but he did not know it at the time.

Chien, however, vigorously denied the charges. He said most of the charges against him relate to an article accusing a former Transportation Ministry official of paying $500,000 in bribes to senior government officials to avoid prosecution. Chien says the article is accurate.

In any case, Chien said, everything he wrote was based on material provided to him by police sources, notably General Quac. None of it, he said was a state secret.

For his part, Quac denied the charges against him of “deliberately disclosing work secrets”. He said he still does not believe that he deliberately disclosed work secrets.

The two journalists’ arrests provoked unprecedented criticism from Vietnamese journalists and citizens. Their editors denounced the arrests, and thousands of citizens wrote to the newspapers praising the reporters for their fight against corruption.

But government censors barred the papers from reporting on the cases. In August, the government stripped seven editors and journalists of their press cards for protesting the arrests.

On Wednesday, the court pronounced its verdict.

Reporter Nguyen Van Hai (r), 33, of the Tuoi Tre newspaper during his trial at the Hanoi People's Court, 15 Oct., 2008
Reporter Nguyen Van Hai (r), 33, of the Tuoi Tre newspaper during his trial at Hanoi People’s Court, 15 Oct., 2008

The court found both journalists guilty. Chien received two years in prison. Hai received one year’s probation, which, after deducting time already served, means he is a free man.

Both police officers were convicted as well. While Huynh was sentenced to a year in jail, General Quac was let go with a warning.

A small crowd gathered outside the courthouse to support the journalists. One Hanoi resident’s reaction to the verdict was bitter. She said she doesn’t think the trial was fair. People who fight corruption were put in prison, while the corrupt people go free.

VOA News – Vietnam Convicts Anti-Corruption Journalists of ‘Abusing Freedom’

Vietnam Imprisons Reporter

Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, October 16, 2008; Page A11

BANGKOK, Oct. 15 — A court in Vietnam has handed down a two-year prison sentence to a journalist who exposed a scandal involving Transport Ministry officials siphoning off aid money, in part to bet on European soccer matches.

Nguyen Viet Chien was convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state.” One of his sources, Lt. Col. Dinh Van Huynh, was given a one-year sentence for “deliberately revealing state secrets.

Chien was unrepentant during the trial.

“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 told the court.

Another journalist, Nguyen Van Hai, who had admitted some errors, was given a two-year suspended sentence. The policeman who headed the corruption inquiry, Gen. Pham Xuan Quac, now retired, was given an official reprimand.

“It was a political trial. It was a trial of the liberal media,” said Vincent Brossel, Asia director for Reporters Without Borders.

The original corruption case was deeply embarrassing for the government. In a series of articles in 2006, Chien and Hai exposed a unit in the Ministry of Transport where officials had been embezzling funds meant for infrastructure development, much of it donated by the World Bank and Japan.

Nine members of the unit have been convicted in connection with the case.

The transport minister resigned, and a deputy minister was among those charged. However, the charges against the deputy minister were dropped in March, and the two journalists were arrested six weeks later.

Vietnam Imprisons Reporter – washingtonpost.com

Former journalist released by the court

15:00′ 15/10/2008 (GMT+7)

VietNamNet Bridge – On Wednesday, a court in Hanoi returned with guilty verdicts for two former police officers and two former journalists. Two of the defendants were released by the court.

Two former high-ranking police officers were charged with deliberately revealing state secrets and two former journalists were tried on charges of abuse of freedom and democracy to violate legal rights and benefits of organizations and individuals.

Four defendants listen to the court’s verdict. (Photo: HT)

General Pham Xuan Quac, 62, received an official warning and Lieutienant Colonel Dinh Van Huynh, 50, was sentenced to one year in prison.

Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, formerly of Thanh Nien newspaper, was sentenced to two years in prison and another former journalist, Nguyen Van Hai, 33, of Tuoi Tre newspaper, was sentenced to a two-year non-custodial reeducation sentence and allowed to walk free.

The prison terms of Chien and Huynh include the time they have already served behind bars since their arrests on May 12.

The case involved the investigation of corruption in early 2006, when General Pham Xuan Quac and Lieutenant Dinh Van Huynh were responsible for investigating Project Management Unit 18 (PMU18).

VietNamNet

VietNamNet – Former journalist released by the court

Anti-corruption journos convicted

Hanoi – A Hanoi court on Wednesday convicted two journalists of “abusing democratic freedoms” for their reporting on a corruption scandal in the country’s transportation ministry, in a case decried by press freedom organisations and Vietnamese journalists.

Two police investigators who had served as sources for the journalists were also convicted of “disclosing work secrets”, by the Hanoi People’s Court.

The court sentenced journalists Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, to two years in prison, and Nguyen Van Hai, 33, to one year on probation.

Former police colonel Dinh Van Huynh received a one-year sentence, while his superior, former police general Pham Xuan Quac, was freed with a warning.

Hai and Chien, formerly reporters at the Tuoi Tre and Thanh Nien newspapers, were among those who in 2006 reported on a scandal involving millions of dollars worth of illegal gambling, kickbacks and embezzlement in the Transport Ministry.

The scandal, which was extensively covered in Vietnam’s media, led to the resignation of the minister and the arrest of dozens of officials, including then-deputy minister Nguyen Viet Tien.

In March, Tien was acquitted and reinstated as a member of Vietnam’s Communist Party. Six weeks later, Hai and Chien were arrested along with their source Quang, 62, who had worked on the case.

The indictments said a series of articles the two journalists wrote were inaccurate, including one claiming that a Transport Ministry official had spent $500 000 bribing a list of 40 senior government officials in order to avoid prosecution.

‘It’s an unfair charge’

The law under which the journalists have been charged criminalises “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organisations and/or citizens”.

It has been used in recent years to prosecute independent labour activists in Ho Chi Minh City and police officers in Danang who accused local officials of corruption.

It carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

The journalists’ arrest in May became a cause célèbre among Vietnamese journalists and the public, leading to unprecedented critiques in the press.

After a crackdown in August, where a number of journalists were stripped of their press cards, the Vietnamese press, which is subject to government control, has reported cautiously on the trials, and carried no news of them on Wednesday morning.

Among a crowd of several dozen who stood outside the courthouse throughout the trial, many denounced the charges.

“It’s an unfair charge,” said Hanoi resident Le Thu Huong, 47. “People who fight against corruption are put in prison, but people involved in corruption go free.”

A Vietnamese journalist, who asked that his name not be used, noted that authorities had jammed cellphone signals in the area around the courthouse.

During the trial, Chien strongly protested his innocence, while Hai admitted that at least one article he wrote had been inaccurate, as charged.

“If I had committed corruption, taken bribes, et cetera, I would be ready to be punished,” Chien told the court. “But now I feel very bitter and anguished to be an anti-corruption journalist.”

– DPA

Anti-corruption journos convicted: World: News: News24