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A Setback For Press Freedom


A Setback For Press Freedom
A court in Hanoi has sentenced a Vietnamese journalist to prison for his coverage of a government corruption scandal in 2006. The judges said that the reporter abused democratic freedoms to infringe on national interests. The ruling is worrisome, given the progress that Vietnam has made in its efforts to allow greater press freedoms there. It is also disappointing in the way it appears to suggest fighting official corruption is not a national interest.

Nguyen Viet Chien, a reporter with the daily newspaper Thanh Nien, was sentenced to two years in jail for exposing how foreign aid money, awarded to build new roads, was used by senior and middle ranking transport officials to bet on soccer matches in England. The court also jailed for one year the police officer who provided Mr. Chien with information in the case. Nguyen Van Hai, another reporter who helped expose the scandal, received one year's probation.

The stories and the corruption trial that followed attracted attention throughout Asia and the world. They were seen as evidence that Vietnam was serious in its efforts to promote clean and open government.

The scandal led to the resignation of the Transportation minister and prosecution of a deputy minister for corruption. But in March, the deputy minister was acquitted and shortly after, Mr. Chien and Mr. Hai were arrested on charges they had "infringed" on their press freedoms.

The court upheld the charge, which contradicts the rights available to journalists under Vietnamese law. Further, these rights have been confirmed in statements by senior government officials at international meetings and conferences. The United States urges the government of Vietnam to support these freedoms, which are critical to combating corruption and abuse of power, and to advancing Vietnam's economic development.
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