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Vietnam 29 July 2008

Authorities sentence dissident journalist to five years in prison, extend detention of two reporters with liberal newspapers

Reporters Without Borders condemns the five-year prison sentence that a court in Kien Giang province in the southern Mekong delta imposed on freelance journalist Truong Minh Duc on 18 July under article 258 of the criminal code for "taking advantage of democratic freedom to harm the interests of the state and of social and citizen organisations."

The press freedom organisation also condemns a decision by the authorities in Hanoi to hold two newspaper journalists, Nguyen Viet Chien of Thanh Nien and Nguyen Van Hai of Tuoi Tre, for another two months. They were arrested in May in connection with their coverage of an important case of official corruption in late 2005.

Reporters Without Borders calls for the release of all three journalists. "In one case, the authorities have punished a reporter and pro-democracy activist with a heavy jail sentence for writing about the situation of peasants in the south," the organisation said. "In the other case, they are keeping two well-known reporters in jail because of their coverage of corruption. The two cases show that the crackdown continues for dissidents and those trying to push against the limits on free expression."

Truong Minh Duc’s lawyer, Le Tran Luat, said: "He was writing about the plight of people in the countryside, about corruption, about the lack of government honesty and about the constraints imposed on peasants in Kien Giang province." Le Tran Luat also said his client was forced to sign confessions.

A member of the Bloc 8406 pro-democracy movement, Truong Minh Duc wrote for various Vietnamese publications such as Tien Phong and Phap Luat as well as online newspapers based outside the country. Aged 48, he broke his arm and has had other health problems since his arrest in May 2007 because of the poor conditions in which he is being held.

Bloc 8406 activist Do Van Hai said Truong Minh Duc’s wife is being kept under close police surveillance. Former political prisoner Nguyen Dan Que said: "Truong Minh Duc wrote about the seizure of land from peasants."

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