Page last updated at 15:21 GMT, Thursday, 16 October 2008 16:21 UK

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 informationů 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 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.


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

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