Vietnam charges 2 journalists over false reports

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Two journalists will go on trial after being charged with reporting false information about one of Vietnam’s most high-profile corruption cases, state media reported Tuesday.

Reporters Nguyen Van Hai and Nguyen Viet Chien were charged formally with “abusing freedom and democracy,” an offense that carries a maximum jail sentence of seven years. The two are known for aggressive reporting on corruption at two of the country’s largest and most respected dailies.

Two police officers who provided information to the journalists will also be tried on charges of “deliberately revealing state secrets,” the Nguoi Lao Dong (Laborer) newspaper said.

The trials could start within two weeks at the Hanoi People’s Court, it said.

Security agents jailed the two journalists on May 12 citing unspecified inaccuracies in their reporting on a major scandal at Vietnam’s transportation ministry that erupted in 2005.

The case led to the conviction of nine people accused of illegally betting millions of dollars on European football matches with money embezzled from a unit of the ministry that managed major road and bridge building projects.

The unit received substantial funding from the World Bank and the Japanese government.

The case prompted the transportation minister to resign and led to the arrest of the deputy minister, although the charges against him were dropped in March.

The Nguoi Lao Dong report said one of the policemen charged with revealing state secrets is Gen. Pham Xuan Quac, the scandal’s chief investigator.

Prosecutors and officials at Vietnam Journalists Association were not available for comment Tuesday.

Source: AP

Vietnam alleges beaten AP photographer broke law

Associated Press reporter Ben Stocking sits in a hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam, Friday, Sept. 19, 2008. Stocking, APs Hanoi bureau chief, said he was punched, choked and hit over the head with a camera by police who detained him Friday while he covered a Catholic prayer vigil in the communist country. Stocking was released from police custody after about two and half hours and required four stitches on the back of his head. His camera was confiscated by police. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

Associated Press reporter Ben Stocking sits in a hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam, Friday, Sept. 19, 2008. Stocking, AP's Hanoi bureau chief, said he was punched, choked and hit over the head with a camera by police who detained him Friday while he covered a Catholic prayer vigil in the communist country. Stocking was released from police custody after about two and half hours and required four stitches on the back of his head. His camera was confiscated by police. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — The Vietnamese government said Saturday that an Associated Press journalist was violating its laws when he photographed a demonstration by land protesters in Hanoi, but sought to deny that he was beaten while in police custody.

AP Hanoi Chief of Bureau Ben Stocking emerged from a police station Friday with matted blood on his head and trousers, and a gash in his head requiring four stitches. He reported that he had been choked, punched and bashed with his own camera — the last assault opening a cut in his scalp that bled profusely. After his 2 1/2 hours in detention, he immediately had to seek treatment at a private clinic for the head injury.

Nevertheless, a foreign ministry statement disputed that there had been a beating.

“There was no beating of Mr. Ben Stocking by the Vietnamese security force,” read the statement attributed to Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung and posted on the Foreign Ministry Web site.

“Stocking broke the Vietnamese law by deliberately taking pictures at a place where taking pictures was not allowed,” the statement said. “Officers who were on duty to keep the public order warned him, but Mr. Stocking did not follow.”

The Associated Press stands by Stocking’s account that he was assaulted and said that there was no evidence that Stocking had broken any law. It has called the treatment of him “unacceptable” and an “egregious incident of police abuse.”

A video taken by an unknown cameraman and posted on YouTube showed the first part of Stocking’s detention.

Before he was escorted away by a plainclothes officer and put into a choke hold, the video shows Stocking calmly standing next to a police officer in broad daylight routinely photographing the protest, which involved a long-running dispute by Roman Catholics seeking the return of what had been church land.

He offers no resistance when asked to step away and is dressed in a dark shirt and clean white trousers.

(AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

(AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

Photographs taken by the AP of him after his release a few hours later showed blood on his clothing and caking his neck and hair.

The U.S. Embassy filed a protest with the Foreign Ministry after the incident, and the State Department has asked the Vietnamese government what it would do to prevent such incidents in the future.

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists in May cited the Vietnamese government for a “recent spate of arrests, detentions, and trials of journalists in Vietnam” that it said contradicted the country’s constitutional provision that “broadly protects press freedom and freedom of expression.”

The Associated Press: Vietnam alleges beaten AP photographer broke law

More information and video of arrest

Viet police ‘punched’ journalist

HANOI – MEDIA rights group Reporters without Borders has denounced the ‘arrest and mistreatment’ of an American journalist covering a protest in Vietnam.

The Associated Press accused Vietnamese police of punching its Hanoi bureau chief Ben Stocking in the face as he tried to cover a demonstration in the capital Hanoi on Friday.

Police took his camera and, when he asked for it back, hit him on the head with it and punched him, the AP said in a report from Bangkok published on the Internet.

He then spent two and a half hours in a police station before being taken to a clinic where he had four stitches to his head.

‘Reporters Without Borders condemns the arrest and mistreatment of Associated Press Hanoi bureau chief Ben Stocking by police while he was covering a peaceful demonstration by Vietnamese Catholics,’ the group said in a statement.

The AP has asked the Vietnamese authorities to apologise and return Mr Stocking’s camera, it said.

Vietnam denied the allegations.

‘Ben Stocking has violated Vietnam’s laws by intentionally trying to take photos at prohibited areas,’ said foreign ministry spokesman Le Dung.

‘It is totally untrue that Mr Ben Stocking was beaten by Vietnamese security forces.’

The US embassy in Vietnam said it had lodged a protest with the government over the incident, which took place during a protest by Catholic priests, monks and nuns against government construction work on land claimed by the Church.

‘We strongly object to any aggressive actions being taken against any individuals American or otherwise who is observing or participating in a peaceful gathering,’ an embassy spokeswoman told AFP.

‘We have protested the incident to the government.’ — AFP

Viet police ‘punched’ journalist

More information and video of arrest

Police detain, beat Associated Press reporter in Vietnam

New York, September 19, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the actions of Vietnamese police who assaulted Associated Press reporter Ben Stocking, after detaining him in Hanoi today. Police detained Stocking, AP’s Hanoi bureau chief, while he was covering a Catholic protest.

Anonymous video footage posted on YouTube shows two men obstructing Stocking as he tries to photograph a prayer vigil, which was staged in protest against city development of land claimed by the church. The men, one of whom wears a uniform, then lead the obviously unwilling journalist from the scene. The footage does not show the rest of the incident described in the report.

“This brutal police treatment of a working journalist is completely unwarranted,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “Journalists should be free to report civil unrest in Vietnam without fear of violence from the authorities.”

In the AP story, Stocking says police confiscated his camera then punched and kicked him when he asked for it back. He also says they hit him in the head with his camera when he reached for it at the police station where he was later taken for questioning, opening a wound which required four stitches.

The AP said it will protest the incident and that the U.S. Embassy had filed a formal protest. Stocking was allowed to leave police custody with an embassy official to seek medical treatment, the report said.

It was not clear whether police obstructed other reporters at the protest site.

CPJ News Alert 2008

More information and video of arrest

Officials in Vietnam deny beating AP reporter

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — Vietnamese officials have denied beating an Associated Press reporter in Vietnam while he covered a Catholic prayer vigil in the communist country.

The denial comes a day after Ben Stocking, the Hanoi bureau chief for The Associated Press, was released from police custody after about 2 1/2 hours and required four stitches on the back of his head. His camera was confiscated by police.

Vietnam’s foreign ministry spokesman Le Dung posted a statement Saturday on the ministry’s web site that said, “Stocking broke the Vietnamese law by deliberately taking pictures at a place where taking pictures was not allowed.”

“There was no beating of Mr. Ben Stocking by the Vietnamese security force,” the statement said.

The Associated Press: Officials in Vietnam deny beating AP reporter

More information and video of arrest

AP reporter violates Vietnam’s laws: spokesman

10:55′ 20/09/2008 (GMT+7)

Foreign Ministry spokeman Le Dung

VietNamNet Bridge – Vietnam Foreign Ministry spokeman denied accusations that an AP reporter had been beaten, but reiterated that the foreign reporter has violated the country’s laws.

“According to reports that we have received, Ben Stocking has violated Vietnam’s laws by intentionally taking photos at prohibited areas,” spokeman Le Dung said when he was asked for the reasons why AP reported Ben Stocking had been arrested for two hours and beaten by the police on September 19.

Dung also said security guards had told the reporter not to take photos but he refused to comply with.

“It is totally untrue that Mr Ben Stocking was beaten by Vietnamese police force,” the spokesman affirmed.

(Source: VNA)

VietNamNet – AP reporter violates Vietnam’s laws: spokesman

More information and video of arrest

AP reporter detained, beaten by police in Vietnam

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — An Associated Press reporter in Vietnam was punched, choked and hit over the head with a camera by police who detained him Friday while he covered a Catholic prayer vigil in the communist country.

Ben Stocking, the Hanoi bureau chief for The Associated Press, was released from police custody after about 2 1/2 hours and required four stitches on the back of his head. His camera was confiscated by police.

“They told me I was taking pictures in a place that I was not allowed to be taking pictures. But it was news, and I went in,” Stocking said by telephone from Hanoi.

Stocking, 49, was covering a demonstration by Catholic priests and church members at the site of the former Vatican Embassy in Hanoi, which is currently the subject of a land dispute between the church and city authorities.

The city had started to clear the site Friday after announcing a day earlier that it planned to use the land for a public library and park — a significant development in an already tense relationship between the church and state in Hanoi.

After Vietnam’s communist government took power in 1954, it confiscated property from many landowners, including the Catholic Church. The church says it has documents showing it has title to the land.

Within minutes of arriving at the prayer vigil, Stocking said, he was escorted away by plainclothes police who took his camera and punched and kicked him when he asked for it back.

Taken to a police station for questioning, Stocking tried to reach for his camera and an officer “banged me on the head with the camera and another police officer punched me in the face, straight on.” The blow from the camera opened a gash at the back of his head.

Transferred to another police station to give a written statement, Stocking was permitted to leave with a U.S. Embassy official to be taken to a medical clinic.

The AP is protesting the incident, seeking an apology from Vietnamese authorities involved and insisting on the return of Stocking’s property.

“It is an egregious incident of police abuse and unacceptable treatment of a journalist by any civilized government authority,” said John Daniszewski, the AP’s managing editor for international news. “Ben Stocking was doing his job in a calm, reasonable and professional manner when he was escorted away and violently assaulted.”

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Angela Aggeler said a formal statement of protest was filed with the Foreign Ministry.

The Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to e-mail and telephone requests by the AP seeking comment.

Violence is rare against international journalists in Vietnam, which has strict controls that govern press activities and travel. Foreign media have to register with the Foreign Ministry and get permission to go to remote provinces.

The first portion of Stocking’s arrest was captured by an anonymous cameraman and posted on YouTube.

The Associated Press: AP reporter detained, beaten by police in Vietnam

No news of Ho Chi Minh City blogger held for past four months on spurious tax charge

(RSF/IFEX) – Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for the release of Nguyen Hoang Hai, a Ho Chi Minh City blogger better known by the pseudonym of Dieu Cay, who has been held on a tax fraud charge since 19 April 2008 and who is about to begin his fifth month in detention.

“This is an utterly baseless charge that is just a pretext to prevent him from posting more articles critical of the government,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The authorities are copying their Chinese neighbours both as regards Internet filtering and harassment of Internet users. We call for Dieu Cay’s release.”

Dieu Cay posted articles criticising China’s policy in the South China Sea, where both the Chinese and Vietnamese governments claim sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel Islands. He had been under close police surveillance since taking part in protests against Chinese policy that took place in Ho Chi Minh City at the start of the year 2008. At one point, the police threatened to let Chinese agents kill him.

After not seeing him for more than a month, police went to his home in Dalat district 3 (on the northern outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City), searched his home, seized documents and charged him with tax fraud.

The authorities accuse him of not paying any taxes for the past ten years on the place where he lives. In fact, he rented the premises from Hanoi Eyewear Co. under an arrangement allowed by the law in which the company assumes responsibility for paying the taxes.

Dieu Cay is affiliated to a group of bloggers known as the Free Vietnamese Journalists Club, some of whose members have been threatened and arrested on several occasions. One, who does not want to be named, was fired from his job at the government’s request and fears he could be arrested on a charge of “divulging information abroad with the aim of overthrowing the government” for giving interviews to foreign news media.

Vietnam has the most repressive Internet policies in Asia after China. Nine cyber-dissidents are currently in prison because of what they posted online. In 2006, ISPs were told to install software that enables them to store their clients’ data for a year. The interior ministry is in charge of filtering political content.


Updates the Dieu Cay (Nguyen Hoang Hai) case:

No news of Ho Chi Minh City blogger held for past four months on spurious tax charge – IFEX

Country’s Media Condemn Journalists’ Arrests

The arrests of two local reporters last week for “abusing their power” by allegedly misreporting a major corruption scandal have led to an unusual confrontation between Vietnam’s government and the country’s state-controlled newspapers, says the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA).

Nguyen Van Hai of the newspaper “Tuoi Tre” (“Youth”) and Nguyen Viet Chen of the rival newspaper “Thanh Nien” (“Young People”) broke a story in 2005 about senior government officials allegedly embezzling funds to wager on European football matches. The story led to the resignation of the transportation minister and other high officials in 2006. Nguyen Van Hai and Nguyen Viet Chen could be held for as long as four months while authorities investigate, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Vietnamese newspapers are generally deferential to the government, which controls most of the nation’s media. But last week’s arrests unleashed a deluge of protests from journalists and bloggers, who said the detentions would discourage aggressive reporting on corruption.

“Honest journalists must be freed,” read a bold headline in “Thanh Nien”, the flagship publication of the Vietnam National Youth Foundation, where Nguyen Viet Chen worked until he was jailed. The paper is demanding that he is allowed bail, reports SEAPA.

“Tuoi Tre” published a story on 14 May saying it was inundated by phone calls, emails and letters from angry citizens protesting the government’s move – the most it had received in 33 years of publication.

The English edition of highlighted the story and solicited mostly supportive views from politicians, lawyers and fellow journalists. National Assembly Deputy Duong Trung Quoc was puzzled as to why the government was “shooting” the messenger while on an anti-corruption drive.

The arrests also point to a worrying trend of the authorities detaining, harassing and jailing journalists in Vietnam using criminal and national security laws, say the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and RSF.

On 13 May, Somsak Khunmi (Nguyen Quoc Hai), a long-time news assistant and contributor to Chan Troi Moi (Radio New Horizon) was sentenced to nine months in prison on terrorism charges. He was detained last November along with French-Vietnamese reporter Nguyen Thi Thanh Van and a group of political activists working for the pro-democracy Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party). Nguyen was released in December following international pressure.

Authorities say Somsak is being detained for attempting to distribute pro-democracy fliers, a violation of Vietnam’s penal code. But CPJ believes his detention has more to do with his and Nguyen’s reporting on an earlier protest held in Ho Chi Minh City by aggrieved farmers who had been pushed off their land by state authorities.

Bui Kim Thanh, a blogger, dissident and lawyer suffered a similar fate for defending women farmers made homeless by illegal land grabs, says International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC). Police stormed her house and detained her in a psychiatric hospital in March – for the second time.

Also in March, freelance journalist and a member of the banned Bloc 8406 pro-democracy movement Truong Minh Duc was given a five-year jail sentence on charges of “taking advantage of democratic rights to act against the state’s interests” and “receiving money from abroad to support complaints against the state”, reports RSF. He often wrote about corruption and abuse of authorities for newspapers and websites in Vietnam and abroad.

The Beijing Games has also been a flashpoint in Vietnam. According to RSF, a Vietnamese government website stated that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung had called for “absolute security” during the Olympic torch relay in Ho Chi Minh City and warned against “hostile forces” that were ready to disturb the peace.

A leading blogger who posted entries on his blog about worldwide demonstrations against the Olympics was kept under close police surveillance and arrested just days before the Ho Chi Minh leg of the relay for taking part in protests against Chinese policy, reports RSF. Nguyen Hoang Hai, better known by his blogging pseudonym of Dieu Cay, was charged with tax fraud, “just a pretext to prevent one of Vietnam’s most influential bloggers from continuing to post comments critical of the government,” RSF says.

And U.S. journalist Le Hong Thien was seized by security police in Ho Chi Minh City while covering the torch relay itself, says RSF. Thien is the editor of the US-based magazine “Gia Dinh”, a reporter on the “Viet Times Weekly”, and contributor to Radio New Horizon. He is currently under house arrest at his brother’s home and his passport has been confiscated. He has not yet been charged.

According to RSF, at least nine journalists and cyber-dissidents are currently in prison in Vietnam.

Visit these links:
– RSF on Dieu Cay:
– RSF on Nguyen Van Hai, Nguyen Viet Chen and Le Hong Thien:
– RSF on Truong Minh Duc:
– CPJ:
– WiPC:
– IFEX Vietnam page:
– AP via ABC News:

(20 May 2008)

Free the honest journalists

Thanh Nien’s offices were swamped yesterday by waves of telephone calls, emails and letters calling for arrested Thanh Nien journalist Nguyen Viet Chien to be released as soon as possible.

Many National Assembly members, state officials, scholars and people from all walks of life have called Chien’s arrest unjust and harmful to the common good.

The following are excerpts from opinions voiced with Thanh Nien:

Tran Van Truyen, chief of the Government Inspectorate, National Assembly member
According to media law, reporters must put out a correction when their stories include any false information.
Heavier penalties could include administrative warning and criminal charges.
However, I don’t see that the charges being put up against these reporters are very clear… Is it possibly because they wanted to prosecute the police investigators [who investigated the PMU18 case] so they’re using [the journalists] as collateral?

Pham Quoc Anh, chairman of the Vietnam Lawyers Association, National Assembly member
I spoke with the head of the Supreme People’s Procuracy of Vietnam yesterday and he said there would be a press briefing soon.
With the recent release of Nguyen Viet Tien [former deputy minister of transport] in the PMU18 case and the arrest of these reporters, the public is sensing that something isn’t right.
The reporters were accused of “abuse of power for personal gain,” but this offense tends to be leveled at those being charged with corruption.
If the police want to charge them, they have to prove what the reporters could have gained from writing their stories.
As far as I know, at the time, many newspapers published similar information about PMU18, not just Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre, so it’s hard to say they secured personal gains from their actions.

Nguyen Quang A, Ph.D., Head of the Institute of Development Studies
I think [these arrests are] really not a good thing.
They have been carried out too hastily, and I think the reporters have been unjustly charged.
If someone provides false information, he or she can be indicted because he or she did it intentionally.
But these reporters, having simply received information from responsible individuals, are not worthy of the charges.
It may now seem that detaining the reporters is inconsequential, but explaining the situation will be a headache for the police when they release them, and Vietnam’s image in the world community will suffer.
To treat journalists in this manner is unacceptable.

Tran Dinh Trien, lawyer, head of the Vietnam Bank Association’s Legal Department
Everyone, including journalists and police investigators, must be punished if they break the law.
Is there, however, enough evidence to charge the reporters with “abuse of power” in this case? How and to what scale did they “abuse” their “power”? Press agencies have the right to collect and reveal information.
It is not the reporters but the source of that information that must take responsibility for its accuracy.
The reporters covered the PMU18 case after police had begun to investigate the scam.
Thus there were no “government secrets” to be divulged.
In my opinion, the decision to charge the reporters is very weak from a legal standpoint.
In this case, lawyers can demand the right to access and analyze the PMU18 case files to assess the accuracy of the information.
I think we probably have to reinvestigate the PMU18 scandal.
I think the state must consider this case very carefully because it has the potential to demoralize investigators and the press alike in the fight against corruption and social evils.
In the meantime, the Vietnam Journalists Association should maintain a firm and law-abiding attitude.
I am willing to defend the reporters if invited.

Journalist association will protect members within law: chair

Chairman of the Vietnam Journalist Association Dinh The Huynh answered questions from the press yesterday regarding Monday’s arrest of Viet Chien and Van Hai, reporters from Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre respectively, who were apprehended for their coverage of the PMU18 scandal.

The two newspapers put out corrections following false information that they published regarding PMU 18. Why, then, are government officials are still trying to pursue Chien and Hai’s cases?

According to our media law, certain kinds of information require more than just corrections.

The papers had corrected their information, but still, we need to look deeper into the case.

Do you think that the arrest will discourage other reporters from pursuing their stories? Will the association support its members if needed?

I don’t think the case will have a negative effect on other reporters.

The association is committed to protecting its members under the law.

Several reporters who covered PMU18 said they could not verify their sources. Can you comment on that?

It’s the media’s responsibility to verify the sources of the information being provided to the public.

But government offices rarely want to provide any kind of information to media outlets.

Isn’t this a contradiction?

How is that a contradiction? It’s our job to dig up information.

Journalists must be careful with corruption, says writers’ association leader

The following are excerpts from an interview with the vice chairman of Vietnam Literature Writers’ Association Nguyen Tri Huan:

Thanh Nien: What are your thoughts on the recent arrests of the two reporters who had covered major corruption cases?

Nguyen Tri Huan: It’s such an unfortunate incident, happening right at a time when our government has vowed to battle corruption even harder.

It also comes just as the country has begun hosting the 2008 Vesak Day – an international event being covered by foreign media.

I think the arrests will taint the country’s image – domestically and internationally.

Do you think the investigators gathered enough evidence before the arrest Monday?

I personally think that even if reporters Nguyen Viet Chien (Thanh Nien) and Nguyen Van Hai (Tuoi Tre) did provide false information during their coverage, they don’t deserve to be in custody.

During Thanh Nien’s coverage of PMU18 case, the paper published corrections immediately after any mistakes were made.

Why are they still arresting the reporters?

Will the arrest affect other writers and reporters – those who might want to write about corruption but will now perhaps be too afraid to do so?

I support these writers but what happened to Chien should remind other journalists to be extremely careful when they report.

They must make sure they use accurate information.

Vietnam latest news – Thanh Nien Daily