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Singer threatens paper with defamation suit

Vietnam's Queen of Pop and mother-to-be Ho Ngoc Ha is filing a lawsuit against a newpaper for running a story about her teenage marriage that the diva said was "untrue and defamatory."

"I cannot keep silent," Ha said.

"Personally, as an artist, I can choose silence when my private life is being severely violated. But when the stories were run for the purpose of defaming my entire family, my parents cannot keep silent."

Ha and her family on Friday began working with lawyer Nguyen Minh Thuan in Ho Chi Minh City to file a lawsuit against Phap Luat va Cuoc Song (Law and Life), which ran the story on May 12.

The story came after Ha gave media interviews confirming her recent pregnancy in April.

The father is playboy and car collector Nguyen Quoc Cuong, or Cuong Dollar, the son of one of the richest women in Vietnam.

Ha said the recent story lied when it said she had previously married at 16 and had lied about being pregnant to marry another rich playboy in Hanoi.

Ha, 26, said the story by Nguyen Huu Nung, 52, an acquaintance of her mother-in-law in Hanoi, not only violated her private life but deliberately reviled her family.

She said her marriage in 2001 occurred when she was 17, not 16, and that she didn't lie about being pregnant to force a marriage.

Her grandmother died in 1996 but Nung described her grandmother at the wedding as looking sad for not being placed in a good seat, Ha's mother Nguyen Thi Huong said.

And the story said that Ha's mother-in-law wanted to end the marriage and forced Ha to sign a paper that she would leave without any assets from her in-laws.

But Huong said she was married under the legal age of 18, so there was no point in asking her to sign a paper as she had no legal protection to ask for anything anyway.

"To share their private life or not, that's a person's right. Reporters can exploit artists' lives, but they must not lie or defame a person's family," Huong told Thanh Nien.

Ha said unless Phap Luat va Cuoc Song apologizes publicly, she and her family would follow the case to "the very end."               

But experts in the field are debating whether or not victory is possible.

Article 38 in the Criminal Code states that individuals have the right to keep their private life secret.

The publication of information about people's private life must be approved by the people in question, according to the law.

Lawyer Phan Ngoc Bang from the HCMC Bar Association said further considerations were needed in this case to see if any private life violation had been committed because the wedding mentioned in the report was known about publicly.

"If the report contained untrue details, the singer can complain to the publication, asking for a correction and apology. If the details cause some damage, she can ask for compensation under the law," Bang said.

Attorney Nguyen Ngoc Hung, also from the association, said the writer had gone too deep into sensitive matters of Ha's life and had caused "spiritual damage" by affecting her reputation and dignity.

A judge from HCMC People's Court who didn't want to be named said Ha needed to prove that the report had contained private details that she didn't want to be published, "and that the publication has affected her reputation, and her image without bringing any benefits to the community."

But the judge said the concept of a "secret private life" was an abstract subject to define in court.

He said personal secrets were protected under laws, as long as they are not a threat to the government, the community or any other individual, he said.

Prosecutor Vo Van Them from the Supreme People's Procuracy, Vietnam's top prosecutor's office, said false details contained in a report could be tried in court.