Nguyễn Thị Liên
By Khánh Vân
Two journalists received death threats earlier this week for reporting on an alleged parking racket at Long Biên market, the biggest wholesale market in Hà Nội.
Nguyễn Thị Liên from Vietnam Television (VTV) and Thu Trang from Phụ Nữ Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh (HCM City Women) were warned to stop their reporting or they and their families would be killed.
This is not the first time such threats to reporters have made headlines in recent years.
More than 50 cases of reporters facing threats or violence have been recorded over the past five years.
In 2016, an investigative journalist from the Lao Động (Labour) newspaper received multiple injuries after being beaten by three men wielding sticks near Kim Văn-Kim Lũ Residential Area in Hoàng Mai District.
In 2017, a reporter from Thanh tra (Inspection) newspaper was assaulted while collecting information relating to illegal ore exploitation in central Thanh Hóa Province.
In March this year, a reporter working for Giao Thông (Transport) newspaper was beaten by a group of men and detained for two hours while he was investigating the suspected illegal nighttime activities of a bar in central Đà Nẵng City. He was beaten so badly, he suffered an inner skull wound and severe facial trauma.
In many cases, authorities took steps to deal with these incidents, but often the punishment hasn’t been enough to deter such crimes.
Violence against journalists still happens. Assaults on reporters are increasing in terms of quantity and the level of threats. And apart from reporters, violence has also been threatened on their family members.
In the Long Biên market case, Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc on Wednesday asked the Ministry of Public Security to investigate the death threats and punish those found to have threatened the journalists. He also asked for measures to protect journalists and those reporting crimes.
The People’s Procuracy of Hà Nội has approved a request by the Investigative Police Agency to launch legal proceedings against three people for allegedly appropriating assets as part of investigation into the suspected illegal parking fee at Long Biên market.
Threatening or attacking a journalist on duty carries a fine of VNĐ20-30 million (US$860-1,280) and 3-5 years in prison.
We already have clear punishments. However, there remains a distance between the laws and reality. The prosecution and investigation of these assaults is often implemented slowly or improperly.
Last month, the world celebrated the International Day (November 2) to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.
So far this year, 86 journalists have been killed worldwide, according to UNESCO. Between 2006 and 2017, 89 per cent of murder cases concerning journalists were unsolved, a worrying message for freedom of the press.
Journalists help fight corruption and speak for the voiceless. The price many of them pay for doing this is facing danger on a daily basis, and if they fall silent, who will speak truth to power?
In the case of Long Biên market, the Government and authorised agencies took prompt action and hopefully that means those involved will be strictly punished.
It is high time more effective protection measures are employed to encourage journalists to work and follow their passion.
Serious crimes against journalists must be investigated thoroughly and lead to harsher sentencing. And related laws must be fully implemented to prevent such crimes.
The two female journalists from VTV and Phụ Nữ Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh (HCM City Women) newspaper who reported on illegal parking fees at Long Biên market are reminiscent of brave warriors.
Few reporters have dared to look into cases like this, as the risks are great. But Liên and Thu Trang are well-known as ‘steel roses’ of the press for their work exposing crime. Without their bravery, many illegal activities would not be uncovered.
An exposé by VTV in late September reported an illegal parking fee that hundreds of merchants were forced to pay market porters to unload their cargo. According to the report, each merchant had to pay at least VNĐ200,000 (US$9) per vehicle each day, with the fee as high as VNĐ350,000 for a big truck.
As the biggest wholesale market of agricultural products in Hà Nội, Long Biên market hosts roughly 1,000 merchants, of which at least 300 regularly need parking space to unload cargo. A merchant told VTV she paid VNĐ100 million last year to secure a parking space. That means the illegal parking payments could amount to at least VNĐ30 billion ($1,287,570) a year.
Thanks to efforts of the two journalists, three porters at the market will be prosecuted on charges of appropriating assets.
The reporters said that before deciding to investigate Long Biên market, they had foreseen potential danger. But they still decided to carry out their reporting with the hope of bringing justice for merchants at the market.
Last year, the global job-search portal CareerCast rated newspaper reporter and broadcaster the two worst careers in the US. The study looked at the 200 most common jobs and ranked them based on salary, expected job growth, level of competition, degree of stress and safety hazards.
To be journalists, particularly investigative ones, reporters face potential dangers on a day to day basis. However, such threats don’t discourage these warriors from reporting.
Trang posted on her Facebook that she was very scared when she received death threats in the past. But she’s not scared anymore.
“I burst into tears, the tear of happiness, to know that three suspected porters working at the Long Biên market will be prosecuted. I feel very happy because justice is being done,” she said. — VNS