Australian Van Kham Chau sentenced to 12 years in Vietnamese prison for 'terrorism'


A 70-year-old retired baker from NSW is facing more than a decade in prison after he was found guilty of "terrorism" in Vietnam.

A Vietnamese court has sentenced Australian citizen Van Kham Chau to 12 years in prison for "terrorism" as a result of his affiliation with a US-based human rights group.

Mr Chau, 70, is a member of Viet Tan, a group dedicated to pushing for democracy throughout Vietnam which the country's government considers a "terrorist" organisation.

Vietnam's Ministry of Public Security accused the retired baker of raising funds for anti-state activities, joining anti-Vietnam protests in Australia and recruiting new members to Viet Tan.

Van Kham Chau was arrested in January.
Van Kham Chau was arrested in January.

In a statement on Monday, Mr Chau's family, who have not seen the 70-year-old since his arrest in January, said they were "distraught" at the heavy sentence and concerned about his frail health.

"The sentence of 12 years imprisonment is too severe for the alleged crime committed," the statement read.

"We will pursue all avenue of appeals on the severity of sentence."

During the trial, Mr Chau reportedly said he loves Vietnam and didn't have any intention to carry out terrorist activities in the country, his lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng told Reuters.

"The prosecutors stuck to the idea that he's a member of Viet Tan to charge him with terrorism." 

Mr Chau was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City in January and has since been detained without a lawyer. Vietnamese police allege he entered Vietnam via Cambodia using a fake ID. 

The 70-year-old had previously served in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam before fleeing Vietnam by boat and arriving in Australia in 1983.

In a statement following the verdict, a spokesperson for Viet Tan called the legal proceedings as a "sham" and described the organisation as advocating for "social justice and democratic change through peaceful means".

Chau family in happier times
Van Kham Chau (left) with his wife and children.

“Chau Van Kham travelled to Vietnam to gain first-hand insight into the human rights situation in the country," Viet Tan chairman Do Hoang Diem said.

"The Vietnamese authorities are criminalising human rights advocacy."

Mr Chau was sentenced alongside two other members of Viet Tan, Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen.

"Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen are peaceful activists. We challenge the Vietnamese government to provide any evidence linking them to ‘terrorism’," Viet Tan's chairman said.

Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch, said the arrests were proof the Vietnamese government will not tolerate any political opposition.

“Vietnamese authorities arrest and imprison anyone they deem a threat to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power, and these three men are just the latest victims," she said in a statement last week.

On Monday, Mr Chau's family called on the Australian government to lobby Vietnamese authorities for his release. The family have previously expressed disappointment by the lack of government support for Mr Chau's case, especially after Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Van Kham Chau's wife Trang Chau
Trang Chau hopes her husband will be freed soon.
Lin Evlin/SBS News

"We had a lot of hope, but there was no indication that he raised this case," Mr Chau's wife, Trang Chau, said.

Earlier this year, Mr Chau's son Dennis, who now lives in London, delivered a 33-page letter detailing his father's case to Foreign Minister Marise Payne's Sydney office. 

On Monday, Ms Payne said it would be "inappropriate and not in Mr Chau's best interests" to comment on his case while appeals remain available under Vietnamese law.

"However, the Government of Vietnam is well aware of our interest in Mr Chau’s case and his welfare," she said in a statement.

"We will continue to engage with our Vietnamese counterparts on this matter."

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