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Cablegate: Editor Sacked for Publicly Criticizing Arrests Of

VZCZCXRO0940
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #0700 2140729
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 010729Z AUG 08
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4721
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 3180
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 4949

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 000700

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL/AWH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI PREL PGOV VM
SUBJECT: EDITOR SACKED FOR PUBLICLY CRITICIZING ARRESTS OF
ANTI-CORRUPTION REPORTERS

REF: A) HANOI 563 B) HANOI 865 C) 07 HCMC 1136

(SBU) Summary: On July 30, a senior editor from Tuoi Tre
(Youth) newspaper was sacked and banned from working in the
media in retaliation for his editorial in support of the
journalists arrested in connection with their reporting on the
so-called "PMU-18 scandal." This reprisal comes as the latest
development in the Government of Vietnam's crackdown on
journalists for reporting this important corruption case. End
Summary.

2. (SBU) On July 30, the HCMC Communist Youth Union leadership
board (which administers the Tuoi Tre newspaper) authorized
disciplinary action against Bui Thanh, senior editor of Tuoi Tre
(Youth) newspaper. Thanh said that he was informed that he
would be removed from his position, banned from ever working in
the media, and his press card would be revoked.

JUSTICE AND JOURNALISTS BOTH AFFRONTED
--------------------------------------
3. (SBU) Thanh said the official reason for his dismissal was
the "serious consequences" to public opinion that his May 13
editorial caused. The editorial, published in Tuoi Tre the day
after two reporters were arrested in connection with their
stories on a massive corruption scandal within the Ministry of
Transportation's Project Management Unit Number 18 (PMU-18),
stated that the arrested reporters had been "protect[ing] this
beautiful life from the rotting worms," and that their arrests
had "enraged" the media. The editorial disparaged the GVN's
handling of the PMU-18 case as an "insult to justice" in which
newspapers were the "victims."

4. (SBU) Media contacts noted that Thanh, together with Huynh
Son Phuoc -- the paper's former deputy chief editor who was
sacked two weeks ago (ref B) -- had formed a reformist core at
Tuoi Tre, the newspaper that has been at the forefront of
pushing the envelope on censorship in Vietnam (ref C). The
editors' removals have come as serious blows to media morale,
with journalists at Tuoi Tre privately expressing their anger
and frustration over the arrests to us and intimating that the
crackdown is leading some to consider changing careers. One
reporter intoned, "the history of Tuoi Tre ends here."

PMU 18 FALL-OUT NOT OVER
------------------------
5. (SBU) Media sources have suggested that the investigation is
ongoing. According to a senior journalist from Tuoi Tre, police
will continue to hold "working sessions" with the editorial
board for the next week. During the past week, well-connected
contacts inside the National Assembly and the Ministry of Public
Security either reverted to the Party line -- which blames the
journalists for abusing media power -- or chose to ignore our
inquiries when asked to discuss the reporters' arrests.

COMMENT: A DEMORALIZED PRESS
----------------------------
6. (SBU) Coming in the wake of the sacking of two editors last
fall (ref C) and the firing of another last week (ref B), this
reprisal against Mr. Thanh represents yet another blow against
the pioneering Tuoi Tre newspaper. The particularly harsh
retributions meted out against Thanh may well be intended to
break the spirit at the publication that has continued to push
the envelope on what can be published in Vietnam despite being
sanctioned numerous times previously (reftels). The severity of
the punishment has demoralized the entire HCMC journalist
community, and even open-minded political insiders have begun to
refuse to discuss the arrests with us. It is too soon to say if
this latest reprisal represents a fundamental reversal of the
welcome shift in the gradual movement toward a more open press
environment described in ref C or if the sackings of Thanh and
his colleagues at Tuoi Tre are intended to demonstrate that news
outlets cannot move beyond the strict limits on reporting
described in ref C: no reporting on corruption among top party
leadership (or their relatives and core supporters) and no
criticism of GVN/CPV political policies or actions (such as
Thanh's gutsy editorial criticizing the arrest of the PMU-18
reporters). End comment.

7. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy-Hanoi.

FAIRFAX

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