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August 25, 2008

Vietnam: Journalists punished over coverage of anti-corruption case

The Vietnamese government said Saturday that four journalists had been stripped of their accreditation because they wrote and edited false information on an anti-corruption case and had defended colleagues arrested for their coverage of the case, reported AFP.

They journalists "directly wrote articles... edited and approved, without checking sources, news and articles with seriously untrue information concerning the PMU18 case," said a statement on the government's official website.

Public outrage was sparked in 2005 when the media unveiled a corruption case in the transport ministry's PMU18 infrastructure unit, where officials allegedly embezzled funds and used money to bet on football.

The scandal led to the resignation of Vietnam's transport minister.

In May this year, journalists Nguyen Van Hai and Nguyen Viet Chien, who were particularly active in covering the case, were arrested over accusations of "power abuse" and "false information", sparking a media outcry.

Newspaper Thanh Nien immediately wrote that "honest journalists must be freed" while Tuoi Tre said its reporter was "paying the price for his news on... a matter which is not yet over but which unravels in a very strange manner."

However, the papers ended their protest two days later after receiving a warning from the government, sources said.

But earlier this month, four leading journalists at the two newspapers were stripped of their press cards by the government but given no concrete reason why.

But on Saturday, the government explained the four had "instigated objections against legal protection agencies for investigating and arresting journalists Nguyen Viet Chien and Nguyen Van Hai" in several articles.

International human rights groups and observers have condemned Hanoi for the arrests, saying they are a serious violation of press freedom.

American ambassador to Vietnam Michael Michalak on Wednesday raised his concerns, saying: "We think this has a negative effect on other journalists who want to report whatever story they can find."

"We hope that as soon as possible the government will publish a full explanation of exactly what were the charges they found out and what were the results of their ultimate investigation."

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