New York, January 18, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the indictment of Nguyen Thi Lan Anh, a staff reporter for the Vietnamese daily Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, on a charge of “appropriating state secrets.” The January 5 announcement of legal actions against Lan Anh followed her series of investigative articles about manipulations of the drug market by the pharmaceutical company Zuellig Pharma.
“Lan Anh’s strong investigative journalism, which brought attention to an issue of great concern to the Vietnamese public, should be welcomed by authorities who have paid lip service to the important role of the press in Vietnamese society,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on authorities to drop all charges against Lan Anh and allow her to continue her work.”
While she has not been officially arrested, Lan Anh has been ordered not to leave her home in Hanoi, sources told CPJ. The indictment stems from a May 2004 article by Lan Anh in which she quotes a document submitted by the Health Ministry to the Prime Minister. In the document, the health minister recommends a comprehensive investigation of Zuellig Pharma Vietnam, a subsidiary of the multi-national Zuellig Pharma.
In her articles, Lan Anh wrote that the pharmaceutical company’s monopoly on the market of certain medicines in Vietnam had been driving up drug prices to “unacceptable levels.” In February, the company signed a commitment with the Health Ministry to stabilize its prices, but the Vietnamese government allowed Zuellig’s import contract to expire in September.
Tuoi Tre is a popular daily that enjoys wide circulation in Vietnam. It is owned by the Ho Chi Minh City Youth Union, an organization under the direct management of the Vietnamese Communist Party.
Legal actions against Lan Anh come amid a government drive to further restrict online and print journalism in Vietnam. On orders from the Ministry of Culture and Information, the popular news Web site Tintucvietnam.com was shut down last week after posting uncensored letters from readers. Truong Dinh Anh, the editor-in-chief of another Web site, VNExpress.com, was fired in November after posting readers’ angry comments regarding the government’s purchase of a legion of Mercedes Benz cars for the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) held in Hanoi in October 2004.