Relatives and colleagues of Hoang Khuong stood up and cheered after he made a statement to the court proclaiming his innocence, according to a report by his paper, Tuoi Tre. The reaction appeared to be a rare, albeit modest, show of public defiance toward the state and its Communist rulers, who critics say are launching a renewed crackdown on the media.

All media in Vietnam is tightly controlled, but free speech activists say enforcement is getting tougher by a government that fears that hard-hitting journalism and social media are eroding its grip over the people. There are currently at least five journalists and 19 bloggers being held on various charges in Vietnam, according to the international watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

Khong, who has been in jail since February, gave a police officer a bribe of $710 in June last year in order to get an impounded motorbike returned.

The 37-year-old paid the bribe as part of reporting on police corruption and later wrote two articles about it that appeared in Tuoi Tre, triggering public anger at the police. Judges at the two-day trial in southern Ho Chi Minh city sentenced him to four years in jail, and the officer who took the money to five, according to a report in Tuoi Tre. Four other people were also sentenced to prison terms in connection with the case, including Khuong's brother-in-law.

In a speech before his sentence was handed down, Khuong said he "had honest motives in detecting and fighting corruption in line with party and state policies" and that while he may have committed a journalistic error he had done nothing criminal.

Representatives of Tuoi Tre were not permitted to give evidence at the trial. The paper's editors declined comment.

Editors and journalists in Vietnam do not have to submit everything they print or broadcast to state censors, but are well aware of which topics they are to avoid. In 2008, a journalist for Thanh Nien newspaper was sentenced to two years in prison for his coverage of a high-profile corruption case at the transport ministry.

The Associated Press - September 7; 2012


Court issues 4-year sentence to Tuoi Tre reporter

After two days of trial, the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court today sentenced six defendants, including Tuoi Tre’s journalist Hoang Khuong, over a bribery case at a traffic police team in the city’s Binh Thanh District last year. The reporter denied the charge.

Judge Nguyen Thi Thu Thuy, the chair of the hearing, announced the sentences this afternoon.

Accordingly, Tuoi Tre Newspaper’s journalist Hoang Khuong (real name Nguyen Van Khuong) was sentenced to 4 years in prison on charges of “giving bribes”. Khuong has vehemently denied the charge, maintaining he only made a journalistic wrongdoing and did not commit a criminal offense.

The prosecutor’s office had earlier proposed a 6-7 year sentence to Khuong, but the court gave him a lighter sentence, saying his contribution as a journalist was an extenuating circumstance.

Meanwhile, Huynh Minh Duc, former traffic police officer at HCMC’s Binh Thanh District, was given 5 years in jail for taking bribes.

Nguyen Duc Dong Anh, who is Khuong’s brother-in-law and a friend of Hoa’s, and Tran Anh Tuan, vice director of Tan Hai Phong Co Ltd, were sentenced to 4 years and 1 year respectively for the same charge as Khuong’s.

Ton That Hoa, director of Duy Nguyen Private Enterprise, and Tran Minh Hoa, the owner of a motorcycle impounded by the Binh Thanh police, got 2 years and 5 years respectively for brokering bribes.

Honest motives in fighting corruption

Khuong, who has been detained since February 2, asserted that he did not bribe anyone and that he only made the mistake of being involved in handing VND15 million (US$720) to Duc on behalf of traffic violator Tran Minh Hoa – an action that was only aimed at obtaining enough evidence for an exposé story about Duc’s corruption.

The 37-year-old journalist said it is wrong for the prosecutor’s office to conclude that his acts were for his personal interest and beyond the scope of necessary journalistic activities serving the coverage.

Lawyer Phan Trung Hoai, who defended Khuong at court, argued that Khuong had committed shortcomings during his coverage against a corrupt traffic police officer, but such mistakes did not constitute a criminal offense.

Therefore, the lawyer proposed that the jury exempt Khuong from criminal responsibility and release him after 8 months of detention.

In his last words before the court announced the sentences, Khuong said “If I had not written the two articles exposing corruption, would I be standing in the dock now? It was purely out of professional shortcomings, with honest motives in detecting and fighting corruption in line with the Party and State policies, instead I had to suffer”.

After Khuong ended his words, relatives, colleagues at Tuoi Tre newspaper and many other people stood up to cheer him, a rare event at court.

As previously reported, the bribery incident involving Khuong occurred in June 2011 and was exposed in Tuoi Tre’s Vietnamese-language daily newspaper on July 10, and on TuoiTreNews (tuoitrenews.vn) under the title “Traffic cop takes bribe to return bike” the same day.

Tuoi tre News - September 7, 2012