Page last updated at 14:11 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

Vietnam reporter freed in amnesty

By Nga Pham
BBC News, Hanoi

Vietnamese journalist Nguyen Viet Chien of the Thanh Nien newspaper during his trial in Hanoi, Vietnam
Nguyen Viet Chien has always maintained his innocence

A well-known anti-corruption journalist and a British national are among more than 15,000 prisoners to be released before term in Vietnam.

The Lunar New Year amnesty is one of Vietnam's largest ever.

President Nguyen Minh Triet signed on 15 January the decision to free Nguyen Viet Chien, of Thanh Nien newspaper. His release is set for Saturday.

He had been given a two-year jail term for his reporting on a major corruption case, causing an international outcry.

Mr Chien, 56, was arrested last May and brought to trial in October for "abusing freedom and democratic rights" while covering the so-called PMU-18 scandal, in which government officials were accused of mis-using large amounts of public funds.


Announcing his early release, Vice Minister of Public Security Le The Tiem said the reporter had showed "regret and remorse".

"Mr Chien co-operated with the authorities so he was granted this special amnesty," Mr Tiem said.

Nguyen Viet Chien's sister, Nguyen Thi Viet Hang, said she was "overjoyed and relieved" and hoped that he could come home as soon as possible.

The trial of Nguyen Viet Chien and another colleague, Nguyen Van Hai, last May drew huge criticism from rights organisations and foreign governments alike.

The Paris-based organisation Reporters Without Borders called the trial outcome a "terrible step backwards for investigative journalism in Vietnam".

The case relates to a corruption scandal in Vietnam's ministry of transport that first came to light in 2006.

Both journalists vigorously pursued the story, which claimed several high-level scalps, but their reportage was later condemned by authorities as inaccurate and harmful.

Mr Hai pleaded guilty at the beginning of the trial, and was awarded a lenient sentence of two years of re-education without detention.

But Mr Chien always maintained that he was innocent and received a harsher punishment.

Briton freed

In another development, Vietnamese police said British passport holder Christopher Thanh Doan, 33, is to be allowed to leave Thu Duc prison near Ho Chi Minh City "as soon as this Saturday".

Mr Doan, who is of Vietnamese origin, was sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2004 for murdering another Vietnamese-born Briton, Father Duc Diem Peter Dao, in January 2003.

Both men were believed to have travelled from London to Vietnam to celebrate new year in their birth country.

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