(VNRN) – A newspaper merely repeated what a lawyer said in court, but that was enough for the Ministry of Police to start a prosecution under the ubiquitous Article 258, simply because what the lawyer said involved alleged misconduct by police-owned businesses.
The story was originally published on Phap Luat & Xa Hoi (PL&XH, meaning Law and Society), a newspaper owned by the City of Hanoi’s Department of Justice. The newspaper was reporting from the widely followed trial of Nguyen Duc Kien (Nguyễn Đức Kiên), a banker accused of unlawfully soliciting investment money.
In Kien’s defense, his lawyer argued that there was no law prohibiting the solicitation and presented evidence that many other businesses also did exactly what Kien did. The lawyer cited specifically Global Telecommunications Corporation (Gtel), a massive conglomerate owned by the Ministry of Police.
GTel apparently has been selling shares as well as buying shares in other corporations while their paperwork was at exactly the same stages that Kien’s companies were.
That information was reported on PL&SH, under the headline “Lawyer accuses Ministry of Police’s enterprises of doing business Kien-style.” The story appeared in the paper on June 2 and by June 4, GTel has submitted an official memo to the Ministry of Police accusing the newspaper of defamation.
The very next day, June 5, the Investigative Agency of the Ministry of Police announced online that it had already made a preliminary conclusion that “there were signs of a crime” and initiated a criminal case under Article 258 for “abusing democratic freedoms.”
Immediately chilled, PL&XH took down the story that had offended the police.
For more on the danger to freedom that is Article 258, read Vietnam Right Now‘s analysis here. This case appears to be the first instance Article 258 is used against a government-owned newspaper.