EU slams jailing of Vietnam reporter

The European Union has labelled Vietnam’s jailing of an anti-corruption journalist as “an attack on the freedom of expression”.

The Presidency of the Council of the European Union said it regretted this week’s rulings against Nguyen Viet Chien, who was sentenced to two years’ prison, and fellow reporter Nguyen Van Hai, who received a non-custodial term.

“These sentences are an attack on the freedom of expression as recognised in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by Vietnam, and to which the European Union recalls its commitment,” said the statement received by AFP.

The United States, Sweden and two media rights groups earlier protested against the rulings against the reporters and their two police sources for helping expose a major graft scandal in a transport ministry unit.

London-based human rights group Amnesty International also demanded that Chien “be immediately and unconditionally released” and stressed that it “considers him a prisoner of conscience”.

Amnesty said the 2005-2006 corruption scandal – in which officials of the so-called PMU 18 division embezzled and squandered aid funds – “was initially dealt with by unprecedented openness” in the media and legislature.

The guilty verdicts, however, “are indicators of just how much the Vietnamese authorities have retreated from that initial openness, turning the Vietnamese media back to a government mouthpiece,” said the group.

© 2008 AFP

EU slams jailing of Vietnam reporter – Breaking News – World – Breaking News

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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

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

Vietnam journalist jailed for exposing scandal

By Tim Johnston in Bangkok

Published: October 16 2008 03:00 | Last updated: October 16 2008 03:00

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A Vietnamese journalist who exposed transport ministry officials who were embezzling foreign aid to bet on European football matches, was yesterday jailed for two years.

Nguyen Viet Chien was convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state”.

Lieutenant-Colonel Dinh Van Huynh, one of his informants, was given a one-year sentence for “revealing state secrets”.

Mr Nguyen told the court: “I never have any other purpose in mind when writing my reports but exposing wrongdoing.”

Ngu-yen Van Hai, another journalist who admitted some errors, was given a two-year suspended sentence. General Pham Xuan Quac, the (now retired) policeman who led the corruption inquiry, was reprimanded for giving information to the press.

Vincent Brossel, Asia director for Reporters sans Frontières, said: “It was a political trial, it was a trial of the liberal media.”

The corruption case was deeply embarrassing for the government. In articles in 2006 for privately owned newspapers, Mr Nguyen and Mr Hai exposed a unit in the ministry of transport where officials embezzled funds meant for infrastructure development, mostly donated by the World Bank and Japan. Nine members of the unit have been convicted in connection with the case.

The government has made the fight against corruption a priority but Mr Brossel said the verdicts called its efforts into question.

FT.com / Home UK / UK – Vietnam journalist jailed for exposing scandal

Vietnamese journalists jailed for exposing English football gambling racket

A Vietnamese journalist has been jailed for two years after he exposed how senior officials were embezzling money then gambling it on the English Premier League.
By Thomas Bell, South East Asia Correspondent
Last Updated: 3:49PM BST 15 Oct 2008

The Court found Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, guilty of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state”. Another journalist, Nguyen Van Hai, 33, was sentenced to two years of re-education without detention after he showed remorse for his crimes.

The two reporters helped expose how millions of pounds worth foreign development funds meant for bridges and roads were being stolen by transport ministry officials and gambled on English football.

In 2006 the transport minister, Dao Dinh Binh, was forced to resign and his deputy, Nguyen Viet Tun, was arrested but later cleared of all charges. Eight lesser officials were ultimately convicted and jailed.

The judge, Tran Van Vy, said that Chien had “damaged the prestige of some high-ranking officials and caused negative public opinion”.

The press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders said the government was taking “revenge” against two “daring journalists who revealed embarrassing cases”.

Also on trial were the reporters alleged sources, retired police General Pham Xuan Quac, 62, who received only an official warning, and Lt Col Dinh Van Huynh, 50, who was jailed for one year.

Analysts say that Vietnam’s communist regime is in the midst of firm action against the media and on internal dissent as it struggles to maintain its authority while the economy falters.

Inflation is at 28 per cent and growth in the country’s export-led economy is declining – and may decline even faster if there is a recession in the West. The economic pain is causing labour unrest across Vietnam and growing public disquiet about corruption.

Even one of the country’s greatest communist heroes, General Vo Nguyen Giap, who led the North Vietnamese army against the Americans latched on to corruption scandal in the transport ministry to call the Communist Party itself “a shield for corrupt officials”.

An anti-corruption campaign by prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung has been widely as lacklustre.

As it struggles to respond to the burgeoning economic crisis and the threat to its authority which the situation represents, the Communist Party’s influential Central Committee has met three times this year, instead of the usual two meetings. Observers interpret that as a sign of official alarm.

It is against this background that Vietnam has detained several journalists in recent months and police even briefly detained and assaulted the American bureau chief for Associated Press as he covered highly sensitive protests during September.

Vietnamese journalists jailed for exposing English football gambling racket – Telegraph