Friday, January 16, 2009

Journalist among over 15,000 released in Tet amnesty

Vietnam journalist Nguyen Viet Chien is among those slated to be released this Saturday, in a Jan. 15 amnesty decision signed by President Nguyen Minh Triet. Major amnesties normally take place either around the Vietnamese new year, Tet, or National Day, Sept. 2. The announced amnesty on this occasion of 15,140 prisoners is the largest ever. But so far Chien is the only known political prisoner to be included in the amnesty. The great majority granted amnesty are common criminals; the amnesty also includes 277 government officials who had been arrested on corruption charges, and 36 foreign citizens arrested on various charges. This is the ninth amnesty for prisoners since 1990. According to Voice of Vietnam news:

"The Amnesty Consultation Council said that the list was created from a total of 15,402 dossiers proposed by jails across the country for the amnesty to mark the traditional Lunar New Year festival (Tet) and the 79th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of Vietnam... Addressing the closing session of the Amnesty Consultation Council’s meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Truong Vinh Trong, Chairman of the council, said that, since 1990, the Party and State have granted amnesty to more than 95,000 inmates, just six percent of whom have relapsed."

Chien is a former reporter for the state-owned Thanh Nien newspaper, who was arrested last year along with Tuoi Tre reporter Nguyen Van Hai for their 2006 reporting on a major corruption scandal in which government officials embezzled larged amounts of foreign aid money in order to bet on sports events. They were brought to trial October 15, 2008, charged with
"abusing freedom and democratic rights." Hai was released with a two-year suspended sentence, while Chien was given a two-year jail term. The editors of both papers were fired for protesting their arrests.

It would be misleading to call these reporters dissidents, as they do not appear to have been deliberately defying government policies with their writings. Rather, they carried out their duties as reporters for the state-owned media, but learned subsequently that they had overstepped their bounds by reporting the misdeeds of high-ranking officials. Their arrest and trial, along with the firing of their editors, was in itself a major corruption scandal.

Sources: VOV news Jan. 14, Jan. 16;BBC news Jan. 16; Associated Press Jan. 16; Viet Nam News Service Jan. 14; Reporters Without Borders Jan. 16.


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