Posted date: October 15, 2008
HANOI — Two Vietnamese journalists faced jail terms on Wednesday on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” in their reporting on a major corruption scandal in the communist country.
The two reporters are on trial along with police officers accused of leaking them information about the 2005 case, in which state officials pilfered foreign aid funds, much of it to gamble on football.
Media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders has labeled the trial the state’s “revenge” against two “daring journalists who revealed embarrassing cases and brought greater freedom to the Vietnamese press.”
The journalists — Nguyen Van Hai, 33, of the Tuoi Tre (Youth) daily, and Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, of the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper — were arrested in May this year, initially accused of “abuse of power.”
On trial with them are the two senior investigating police officers, who have denied leaking any sensitive information to the media, General Pham Xuan Quac, 62, and Senior Lieutenant Colonel Dinh Van Huynh, 50.
Prosecutors demanded Chien and police officer Huynh each be jailed for two to two-and-a-half years, and that the other two undergo re-education without detention — Quac for two years, and Hai for 18 months to two years.
The state’s lawyers argued that the news reports contained errors, were biased and had tarnished the images of officials, party cadres, Vietnam and its leadership, ahead of a five-yearly party congress in early 2006.
While Hai on Tuesday admitted to some unintended errors in his reporting, Chien launched into a spirited defense, saying he was a principled reporter motivated by the desire “to fight corruption.”
The journalists had written extensively about the scandal inside the transport ministry’s so-called PMU 18 infrastructure unit, where officials had embezzled foreign development funds meant for roads and bridges.
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 case took an unexpected turn when the deputy minister was freed from detention last October and cleared of all charges in March.
The journalists’ arrests in May, and the sacking of their dailies’ deputy editors, has sent a chill through the Vietnamese media, which initially protested but, following stern warnings, fell largely silent about the case.
Vietnam reporters face jail over exposé – INQUIRER.net, Philippine News for Filipinos