Vietnamese journalist who exposed police corruption sentenced to 4 years in jail for bribery

Posted on September 8, 2012

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HANOI, Vietnam — A Vietnamese journalist who bribed a police officer as part of an undercover investigation into corruption was sentenced to four years in prison on Friday, while the officer who accepted the money got a five-year sentence, state-controlled media reported.

Relatives and colleagues of Hoang Khuong stood up and cheered after he made a statement to the court proclaiming his innocence, according to a report by his paper, Tuoi Tre. The reaction appeared to be a rare, albeit modest, show of public defiance toward the state and its Communist rulers, who critics say are launching a renewed crackdown on the media.

The United States, which is seeking closer ties with Vietnam but has pledged to press the government on human rights issues, issued a statement saying it was concerned that Khuoung’s sentence “may reflect political considerations and not just his alleged act of bribery.”

Christopher Hodges, a spokesman for the American Embassy in Hanoi, said the U.S. also was concerned by the number of journalists and bloggers being held by the government and the “chilling effect on the media environment.”

Khuong, who has been in jail since February, gave a police officer a bribe of $710 in June last year in order to get an impounded motorbike returned.

The 37-year-old paid the bribe as part of reporting on police corruption and later wrote two articles about it that appeared in Tuoi Tre, triggering public anger at the police. Judges at the two-day trial in southern Ho Chi Minh city sentenced him to four years in jail, and the officer who took the money to five, according to a report in Tuoi Tre. Four other people were also sentenced to prison terms in connection with the case, including Khuong’s brother-in-law.

In a speech before his sentence was handed down, Khuong said he “had honest motives in detecting and fighting corruption in line with party and state policies,” and that while he may have committed a journalistic error he had done nothing criminal.

Representatives of Tuoi Tre were not permitted to give evidence at the trial. The paper’s editors declined comment.

All media in Vietnam is tightly controlled, but free speech activists say enforcement is getting tougher by a government that fears that hard-hitting journalism and social media are eroding its grip over the people. There are currently at least five journalists and 19 bloggers being held on various charges in Vietnam, according to the international watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

Editors and journalists in Vietnam do not have to submit everything they print or broadcast to state censors, but are well aware of which topics they are to avoid. In 2008, a journalist for Thanh Nien newspaper was sentenced to two years in prison for his coverage of a high-profile corruption case at the transport ministry.

Associated Press

Tuoi Tre’s journalist to appeal 4-year sentence

After the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court sentenced Tuoi Tre’s reporter Hoang Khuong to 4 year in jail on charges of “giving bribes” on Friday, the journalist said he would appeal the verdict.

The 37-year-old journalist, whose real name is Nguyen Van Khuong, denied the charge and maintained he only made a journalistic error. Therefore, he said, such a heavy sentence was unreasonable.

At yesterday’s hearing for Khuong and five others in the case of bribing Huynh Minh Duc, a former traffic police officer in HCMC’ Binh Thanh District last year, the reporter insisted that he did not commit an act of bribery.

Khuong told the court that he only made the mistake of being involved in handing VND15 million (US$720) to Duc on behalf of traffic violator Tran Minh Hoa – an action that was only aimed at obtaining enough evidence for an exposé story about Duc’s corruption.

Lawyer Phan Trung Hoai, who defended Khuong at court, argued that Khuong, who has been detained since February 2, had committed shortcomings during his coverage against a corrupt traffic police officer, but such mistakes did not constitute a criminal offense.

Hoai also emphasized that even if the journalist’s actions could be considered a crime, he would still be exempted from criminal responsibility under Item 6 of Article 289 of the 1999 Criminal Code, and under Item 4 of Article 4 of the 2005 Law on Corruption Prevention and Control.

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Khuong’s relatives, friends and colleagues waving at Khuong who was in a police van after the hearing ended on September 7 (Photo: Tuoi Tre) 

Therefore, the lawyer proposed that the jury exempt Khuong from criminal responsibility and release him after 8 months of detention, but the prosecutor at court, Pham Thi Thu Ha, rejected the lawyer’s demand.

Ha, who had proposed that Khuong be sentenced to 6-7 years in jail, maintained that Khuong’s acts were for his personal interest and beyond the scope of necessary journalistic activities to serve coverage.

As previously reported, the bribery incident involving Khuong occurred in June 2011 and was exposed in Tuoi Tre’s Vietnamese-language daily newspaper on July 10, and on TuoiTreNews (tuoitrenews.vn) under the titles “Traffic cop takes bribe to return bike” the same day.

Tuoi Tre supports journalist Hoang Khuong

After the journalist was sentenced, Tuoi Tre’s Editorial Board said it has found itself partially responsible for the shortcomings Khuong have committed during his journalistic activities related to the bribery case.

The entire staff of the newspaper would continue giving assistance to Khuong, the editorial board said, adding that Khuong’s case could be seen as a professional risk that needs sympathy.

Tuoi Tre will give care and aid to Khuong’s aged mother who is suffering from a serious illness. The newspaper will also provide Khuong’s wife and children with necessary assistance to help them have a stable life, the editorial board said.

As Khuong has appealed his verdict, Nguyen Hoang Anh, Khuong’s wife, said she hoped her husband would be given a commutation in the future.

Meanwhile, 80-year-old Nguyen Van Khai, Khuong’s father, said he wanted Khuong to be allowed to visit her ill mother who is being treated at Nguyen Trai Hospital in HCMC.

Tuoi Tre

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Posted in: Corruption, Politics