New York, September 7, 2012–A Vietnamese journalist who bribed a police officer during an undercover investigation to expose corruption was sentenced today to four years in prison, according to local and international news reports. A Ho Chi Minh City court convicted Nguyen Van Khuong, who uses the penname Hoang Khuong and works for the Vietnamese-language daily Tuoi Tre, of giving bribes in connection with his paying a police officer 15 million Vietnamese dong (US$720) to overlook a traffic violation in June 2011, according to news reports. The journalist was detained on January 2, news reports said.
The court sentenced the officer who received the bribe to five years, and also jailed four other individuals who were involved in brokering the deal, news reports said.
Khuong and Tuoi Tre said the bribe had been part of an undercover operation to expose police corruption, though the paper’s editorial board reprimanded and suspended the journalist for his methods, Tuoi Tre reported. In 2011, the paper published Vietnamese and English articles called “Traffic cop takes bribe to return bike,” which detailed the transaction.
Khuong denied any wrongdoing in court. “If I had not written the two articles [exposing corruption], would I be standing in the dock now?” he said in a statement that was cheered by colleagues and his supporters, according to Tuoi Tre‘s English-languagewebsite. The Associated Press reported that Tuoi Tre representatives were not permitted to give evidence during the two-day trial.
“Bribing a police officer is against the law, but Nguyen Van Khuong’s motivation was to expose corruption, which is the essence of investigative reporting,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Four years in jail is clearly a disproportionate punishment.”
Vietnamese journalists have faced consequences for exposing corruption in the past. Nguyen Van Hai, a reporter for Tuoi Tre, was given a two-year non-custodial sentence in 2008, while Nguyen Viet Chien, with the Vietnamese daily Thanh Nien, was jailed for two years for reporting on government corruption. Deputy editors at both Thanh Nien andTuoi Tre were removed from their posts for critical coverage of their trials.
Domestic news media are heavily controlled in Vietnam, where authorities frequently jail bloggers and journalists for writings perceived to be critical of the Communist Party government, according to CPJ research. At least nine journalists were imprisoned in Vietnam when CPJ conducted its annual survey on December 1, 2011, making the country, the fifth worst jailer of journalists in the world.
For more data and analysis on Vietnam, visit CPJ’s Vietnam page here.