HANOI – FOREIGN diplomats at a meeting on Friday criticised Vietnam for punishing graft-busting journalists and urged the communist government to step up its anti-corruption drive.
Diplomats speaking at the annual Anti-Corruption Dialogue focused on the jailing last month of newspaper journalist Nguyen Viet Chien who had helped uncover a major corruption scandal three years ago.
Swiss ambassador Jean-Hubert Lebet said the case was ‘devastating,’ both for Vietnam’s media and for the country’s image, because it sent the signal that ‘if somebody is reporting on corruption, he goes to jail.’
Chien helped drive media reporting on the so-called PMU 18 scandal, named after a transport ministry road-building unit whose officials pilfered millions in foreign aid and bet much of it on football matches.
In the wake of the scandal, the government in 2006 vowed to crack down on the widespread scourge of corruption, an effort that was cheered by the international community and foreign business groups.
But in May this year Chien and another journalist were arrested, and they were convicted last month, along with their police sources, in a case that sent a chill through the country’s state-controlled media industry.
Chien, an award-winning veteran reporter with the popular Thanh Nien daily, received two years’ prison for the vague charge of ‘abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state.’ Dutch Charge d’Affaires Bengt van Loosdrecht said at the Hanoi meeting on Friday that ‘if the conduct of the media is too easily criminalised, they may feel hampered to exercise their tasks professionally.
‘Journalists need full access to information and sufficient self confidence to express themselves freely without risking punishment.’ — AFP