Posted by: Frederik Balfour on January 20, 2009
It’s approaching the time of the Tet holiday, Vietnamese Lunar New Year, and human rights advocates will have at least one small reason to celebrate. President Nguyen Minh Triet has granted a pardon to 58 year-old Nguyen Viet Chien, a reporter at state-owned Thanh Nien newspaper who was sentenced last fall to two years in prison for what in any other country would be considered doing his job. Chien had exposed government corruption in his reporting on a controversial transport project in which officials at the Transport Ministry siphoned off funds. Instead of being commended for his exemplary work as a member of the Fourth Estate, Chien was charged with “abusing freedom and democratic rights.” Chien pleaded not guilty, but was discharged on January 15 because he showed regret for his actions. So perhaps, did his former editor, Thanh Nien editor Nguyen Cong Khe, who was sacked two weeks before by his communist bosses in what Human Rights Watch called the latest effort to stifle critiscm and dissent.
In Hong Kong, another journalist has suffered blows in the name of press freedom. Richard Jones, a photographer on assignment for the Sunday Times, says he got socked by Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace while she went on a shopping spree on January 16.
Meanwhile over in Thailand, which once had a reputation for the freest media in Southeast Asia, an Australian writer has received a three-year sentence on January 19 under the country’s lese majeste laws for offending King Bhumipol Adulyadej in a self-published novel released in 2005. The book, which had a print run of just 50 copies was considered offensive because its author Harry Nicolaides referred to manner in which the Thai Crown Prince treated his mistress. The offending passage only contained three sentences, the defendent’s lawyer said.