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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Vietnam journalist sentenced to two years in prison for corruption scandal report
Caitlin Price at 2:55 PM ET

[JURIST] Vietnam's Hanoi People's Court on Wednesday sentenced journalist Nguyen Viet Chien of Thanh Nien news agency [media website] to two years in prison for "abusing democratic freedoms" to infringe state interests for his reporting on the so-called PMU 18 corruption scandal [JURIST report; Tuoi Tre news archive, in Vietnamese]. Nguyen's co-defendant, Nguyen Van Hai of Tuoi Tre news agency [media website, in Vietnamese], received a two year "re-eduction" sentence, suspended for time served, after pleading guilty. Story informant Lieutenant-Colonel Dinh Van Huynh was sentenced to one year in prison for "deliberately revealing state secrets," and retired policeman General Pham Xuan Quac was reprimanded for providing information to the press. The sentencing judge said that "hostile forces, reactionaries and political opportunists" exploited the PMU 18 scandal [AFP report] to criticize the Vietnamese government. The sentences were immediately condemned [BBC report] by the US Embassy in Hanoi [official website], which argued that the journalists acted within their legal rights under Vietnamese law. Advocacy group Committee to Protect Journalists decried the sentences as "shameful" [CPJ report], and Reporters Without Borders called on the international community to condition aid to Vietnam [press release] on "respect for press freedom and the release of imprisoned journalists." The Financial Times has more.

Nguyen Van Hai and Nguyen Viet Chien were arrested [JURIST report] in May on suspicion of abuse of power and divulgation of false information [AFP report, in French] and were charged [JURIST report] in September, facing up to seven years in prison. The journalists reported on illegal gambling and corruption [JURIST news archive] within Project Management Unit (PMU) 18, a Vietnamese agency responsible for the construction of roads and bridges that receives aid from the World Bank and other countries. Their work triggered an investigation that led to the Hanoi People's Court's August 2007 convictions [JURIST report] of former Vietnamese government officials. In September, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Vietnamese government [HRW report] to end efforts "to silence independent bloggers, journalists, and human rights defenders" and to enforce the right to exercise freedom of expression, assembly and association under the Vietnamese Constitution [text] and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text].

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