Reporters Without Borders expressed alarm after several journalists reporting on a high-level corruption case were beaten up and threatened in Hanoi.
Those assaulted included a reporter on the daily Thanh Nien (Youth) and another on the weekly Doi Song Phap Luat (Life and Law). They were covering corruption implicating Bui Tien Dung, managing director of the infrastructure agency PMU18 which comes under the transport ministry.
The company head allegedly embezzled more than seven million dollars (nearly six million euros) of foreign aid from Official Development Assistance (ODA) to bet on European football matches.
“We note the authorities’ promise to boost security for journalists and we ask them to ensure that police identify those responsible for this violence,” the press freedom organisation said.
A journalist on the daily Thanh Nien was beaten up on 23 March 2006 when he was taking photos of the arrest of Nguyen Mau Thon, an officer in the dummy company, Viet Hoa, which was managing the money embezzled by Bui Tien Dung.
His attackers - young men suspected of being in the pay of the company head - repeatedly elbowed the journalist in the stomach and smashed his head on the ground. They stopped him from taking pictures of the arrival of the deputy transport minister, Nguyen Viet Tien, also accused of having covered up the fraud.
“It is very likely that some shady powerful figure is behind this and is paying these gangs to maltreat journalists and prevent them from doing their job,” said Tien Thanh, the deputy editor of the weekly Doi Song Phap Luat, which also had a journalist attacked. He was struck in the face and had his camera stolen when he tried to take photos of the company’s deputy head, Vu Manh Tien. “This case has put journalists very much at risk,” he said.
Police have taken legal action against these “delinquents”, some of whom have been stationed outside the homes of Bui Tien Dung and those of other people involved in the case to dissuade journalists from doing their job. Police have also told Thanh Nien that there will be special security around police stations where those implicated in the case, including the deputy transport minister, are interrogated.