Arbitrary detention of journalists and "bloggers"

06/10/2008
Press release

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) express their concern regarding the arbitrary detention of journalists and "bloggers" in Vietnam, in a climate of intimidation and harassment.

Two reporters in the State-controlled press, Nguyen Van Hai, journalist of Tuoi Tre (Youth Magazine) and Nguyen Viet Chien of Thanh Nien (Young People), two of the country’s best-selling dailies, were arrested on 12 May 2008 on charges of "inaccurate reporting and abuse of power" for covering a major corruption scandal at Vietnam’s Transport Ministry involving several high-ranking Communist officials who embezzled millions of dollars from a unit of the ministry (PMU-18) to bet on European football matches. They were both arrested just two months after one of the principal culprits of the scandal, Deputy Transport Minister Nguyen Viet Tien, was suddenly cleared of all charges and released due to alleged "lack of evidence". Two police officers who provided information to the journalists will also be tried on charges of "deliberately revealing state secrets."

According to Vietnamese State media, the journalists were formally charged last week and will be brought to trial before the Hanoi People’s Court. They are accused of "abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State" (article 258 of the Criminal Code). FIDH and VCHR note that this article is routinely used to detain dissidents and carries a maximum penalty of 7 years.

Moreover, well-known "blogger" Nguyen Hoang Hai (pen-name Dieu Cay) was sentenced to 30 months in prison at an unfair trial at the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court on 10 September 2008. He was convicted of "tax evasion’, but his lawyer denounced these charges as unfounded. Dieu Cay had been interrogated at least 15 times and subjected to routine harassments after he posted articles on the Internet and unfurled a banner in front of the Opera House in Ho Chi Minh City in January protesting China’s claims of sovereignty over the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands. He was one of the founding members of the Club of Free Journalists (Cau Lac Bo Nha Bao Tu Do) in 2006.

FIDH and VCHR urge the government of Vietnam to immediately release Nguyen Van Hai, Nguyen Viet Chien and Nguyen Hoang Hai and drop the orchestrated charges against them. More generally, FIDH and VCHR call the authorities of Vietnam to respect the country’s Constitution on the right to freedom of expression as well as the United Nations International Covenant on civil and political rights (ICCPR) to which Vietnam has acceded in 1982. Free media is a cornerstone of democracy and as such it should be guaranteed under any circumstances.

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