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Journalist Nguyen Viet Chien granted early release as part of presidential amnesty marking Lunar New Year

(WiPC/IFEX) - The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN welcomes the release on 17 January 2009 of journalist Nguyen Viet Chien as part of a Presidential amnesty to mark the Lunar New Year. Nguyen Viet Chien had served eight months of a two-year prison sentence for reporting on corruption. International PEN remains alarmed about freedom of expression in Vietnam, and reiterates its call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in violation of Article 19 of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression.

According to International PEN's information, Nguyen Viet Chien, a reporter for the Vietnamese language newspaper "Thanh Nien", was arrested with his colleague, Nguyen Van Hai, a journalist with "Tuoi Tre" newspaper, on 13 May 2008. Their detention was linked to their reports on high-level corruption in the so-called "PMU-18" scandal in 2006. It is said that the scandal provoked the resignation of various senior officials, some of whom who were alleged to have gambled development funds earmarked for the building of roads and bridges on European football.

On 15 October 2008, the Hanoi People's Court sentenced both journalists under Article 258 of the Vietnamese Penal Code for "abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interest of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens." Nguyen Viet Chien was given a two-year prison sentence after pleading his innocence, while Nguyen Van Hai was handed down a non-custodial, two-year re-education sentence, after pleading guilty.

International PEN remains alarmed about the situation of freedom of expression in Vietnam. In September 2008, in an apparent crackdown on dissent, a number of writers were arrested for their peaceful dissident activities. The following remain detained in poor conditions without charge or trial:

- Nguyen Xuan Nghia, poet and writer
- Le Thi Kim Thu (f), online reporter and photographer
- Pham Van Troi, dissident writer and activist
- Nguyen Van Tuc, farmer, poet and human rights defender
- Ngô Quynh, student and dissident writer
- Pham Thanh Nghien (f), Internet writer and independent journalist

For the previous WiPC alert on Vietnam, visit: http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/go/news/vietnam-crackdown-on-dissidents

For the BBC's country profile on Vietnam: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/country_profiles/1243338.stm

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