"Vietnam is one of the few countries where people can be locked up on charges of 'abusing democratic freedoms,'" said Brad Adams, Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The group called on the country's aid donors to demand that the government "stop its criminalization of peaceful expression."

On Dec. 31, government authorities dismissed Nguyen Cong Khe, the editor of Thanh Nien (Young People), and Le Hoang, editor of Tuoi Tre (Youth), after they protested the firing of two reporters who covered a transportation ministry corruption case in 2006.

Under their leadership, both papers aggressively covered the scandal in which officials allegedly used international aid money to gamble on football matches.

Two reporters who followed the case were convicted of "abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state."

Nguyen Viet Chien from Thanh Nien was sentenced to two years in prison and Nguyen Van Hai from Tuoi Tre received two years of probation.

Last month, the government also tightened restrictions on bloggers to ensure that they write about personal issues rather than sensitive political topics.

Government officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

The Associated Press - January 9, 2009

Rights group urges WBank, donors to press Vietnam on media

HANOI — US-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) called Friday on the World Bank and donor nations to Vietnam to press the communist government to stop criminalising journalists and allow a free media.

The group pointed to the recent jailings of reporters and bloggers and the dismissals of two newspaper editors as the latest examples in "a series of measures by the Vietnamese government to stifle criticism and dissent."

"Vietnam is one of the few countries where people can be locked up on charges of 'abusing democratic freedoms'," said HRW Asia director Brad Adams.

"Vietnam's donors should continue to insist that the government stop its criminalization of peaceful expression."

Authorities have targeted the Thanh Nien (Young People) and Tuoi Tre (Youth) dailies, which helped uncover a major graft scandal in which officials squandered money from projects partially financed by Japan and the World Bank.

"The World Bank and Japan should come to the defence of these investigative reporters and their editors," said Adams.

"They should make it clear to the Vietnamese government in public and in private that this kind of retribution for good journalism is not acceptable."

Agence France Presse - January 9, 2009