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.
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
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
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
“These results are particularly worrisome in light of the
serious corruption issues that their earlier investigations had brought
You [Nguyen Viet Chien ] may be naive but your naivety makes me feel more confident about human nature
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
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.”
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.
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
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