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Cablegate: Vietnamese Press and Public Continue to Fire Away On

VZCZCXRO3911
RR RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHHI #0569/01 1351016
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 141016Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7830
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 4723
RUEHZS/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 000569

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON PHUM PGOV KCOR KPAO SOCI PREL VM

SUBJECT: VIETNAMESE PRESS AND PUBLIC CONTINUE TO FIRE AWAY ON
ARRESTS OF JOURNALISTS

Ref: A) HANOI 563; B) 07 HCMC 1136; C) 07 HANOI 2088; D) 07 HANOI
1016

HANOI 00000569 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: Widespread criticism continued in the Vietnamese
press and blogosphere over the arrest of two journalists for their
reporting on the PMU-18 corruption scandal and high-profile figures
have offered their support to the journalists. The case is widely
seen as reflecting power struggles within the Communist Party and
the Government of Vietnam, and as undercutting the credibility of
the GVN's stated commitment to fighting corruption. End Summary.

2. (SBU) On May 14, Vietnamese press continued to run hard-hitting
editorials criticizing the arrest of Tuoi Tre's Nguyen Van Hai,
Thanh Nien's Nguyen Viet Chien and their alleged police source in
connection to 2006 reports on the Project Management Unit Number 18
(PMU-18) scandal. (Ref. A). Tuoi Tre's front-page editorial said
its readers expressed indignation and sent over 2000 letters -- a
"record number" -- expressing sympathy for Hai.

3. (SBU) For its part, Thanh Nien said its offices were "swamped"
with phone calls from people calling for the journalists to be
released and asserted that many National Assembly members,
Government of Vietnam (GVN) officials, academics and ordinary people
have said Chien's arrest was "unjust and harmful to the common
good."

4. (SBU) Thanh Nien ran long exposes from high-level opinion-makers
who have questioned the arrests. The Government Inspectorate's Tran
Van Truyen was quoted as saying that the charges "against these
reporters are not very clear." Tran Dinh Trien, head of the Vietnam
Bank Association's Legal Department, doubted the validity of the
charges in Thanh Nien and offered to serve as Chien's legal counsel.
Many other high-profile figures have come to the defense of the
journalists and have offered to help win their freedom.

5. (SBU) Huy Duc, a long-time Vietnamese journalist, wrote in his
blog that the arrests "could easily make the public think that
people fighting against corruption are being attacked back" but he
added that some officials "used the newspapers as a means to further
their own cause" in the investigation or for promotion.

Future "Counter-blows?"
---------------------

6. (SBU) In other developments in the case, yesterday the MPS
charged but did not arrest MPS Major General Pham Xuan Quac in
connection to the 2006 PMU-18 reports. A police contact told us
Quac took direction from "a Politburo faction" in releasing
information to the journalists on the PMU-18 case. The MPS unit
that Quac used to head -- he "retired" from his position in
December, 2006 -- carries out investigations of major criminal
cases. It remains to be seen how this faction will fight back, if
at all, over Quac's arrest, the police contact added. The MPS'
General Security Department, a separate office within the large MPS
bureaucracy from Quac's own, took the lead in assembling the case
against Quac.

7. (SBU) Vietnamese Law Association President Pham Quoc Anh, who is
reputed to be aligned with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, on May 14
was quoted in Tuoi Tre as saying he advised the Director of the
Supreme People's Procuracy to handle the case of the reporters
"carefully." He also warned that the Party allowing former Vice
Minister of Transportation Nguyen Viet Tien, who oversaw PMU-18, to
resume work at the ministry at about the same time it has led the
charge against the journalists might cause the public to pursue
"counter-blows."

Comment: When Buffaloes Fight...
--------------------------------

8. (SBU) There is a Vietnamese saying that when buffaloes fight,
insects die. In this case the arrest of the reporters is widely
seen as the continuation of the high-level dispute that emerged in
the PMU-18 scandal. According to this view, one faction believed to
be connected to Prime Minister Dung exposed the scandal in an effort
to weaken current Party Secretary General Manh and Manh's faction is
now fighting back.

9. (SBU) In this struggle the press has not been a disinterested
party. Indeed various bloggers have accused Thanh Nien
Editor-in-Chief Khe of only allowing his reporters to investigate
certain individuals. While no one has accused Thanh Nien of falsely
accusing people, they have accused the paper of being selective in
its accusations. Late last fall, for example, bloggers reported
that Khe had stopped the publication of articles linking HCMC Party
Secretary Le Thanh Hai to corrupt land deals. Tuoi Tre, which is
regarded as more independent than Thanh Nien, ran the articles about
Hai's links to dubious land deals, resulting in reprimands for both
the editors and reporters.

HANOI 00000569 002.2 OF 002

10. (SBU) This dispute continues with the results far from clear.
What is clear is that the ham-handed manipulation of the press in
this case has raised public concern about the GVN's commitment to
fighting corruption.

11. (SBU) This cable was coordinated with ConGen Ho Chi Minh City.

MICHALAK

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