A pro-democracy group has slammed Vietnam for jailing a 70-year-old Sydney man on terrorism charges and challenged Australia on its relations with Hanoi.
The family of Australian Van Kham Chau say they do not believe he has been given a fair trial after he was convicted of terrorism charges and sentenced to 12 years in jail.
Chau Van Kham, 70, was sentenced alongside Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen over allegations he had raised money for anti-state activities, joined anti-Vietnam protests in Australia and recruited members for the US-based Viet Tan.
The Sydney man’s family said, through their Australian lawyer Dan Nguyen, they are gravely worried the retiree has not been afforded due process.
"We feel the whole process has been a sham so far, were told about the date only days before the trial and he was only able to meet with his lawyer two times despite being detained since January,” Ms Nguyen said.
While Ms Nguyen concedes the former baker entered Vietnam in January using a fake ID card, she strongly refuted he engaged in any terrorist activities.
"The terrorism charge is a very serious charge and he has committed no such offence, there is absolutely no evidence to support that charge," she said.
The Viet Tam organisation, deemed a terror group by the Vietnamese government, has also slammed the sentence.
"The verdict calls into question communist Vietnam's legitimacy and whether Australia, the United States or any law-abiding nation can forge a sustainable economic or security partnership with Hanoi," Viet Tan chairman Do Hoang Diem said on Tuesday.
Chau , of Vietnamese origin, joined Viet Tan about nine years ago and has been an outspoken critic of communist Vietnam.
In recent years, Viet Tan has rejected violence and advocates non-violent reform.
The United Nations has described them as "a peaceful organisation advocating for democratic reform" in Vietnam.
The group's chair said he had travelled to Vietnam to study the country's human rights situation. His colleagues were peaceful activists, Mr Diem said, adding the "arbitrary verdict confirms that legal proceedings in Vietnam are a sham".
"We challenge the Vietnamese government to provide any evidence linking them to 'terrorism'. The Vietnamese authorities are criminalising human rights advocacy," Mr Diem said.
According to a police report, Chau entered Vietnam from Cambodia in January and gave $US400 to help fund Viet Tan operations, which was "a very serious case of national security infringement led by Viet Tan's key people".
Police said Chau was a navy veteran of the former South Vietnam's military who sought asylum in Malaysia in 1975. He moved to Australia in 1983.
"After nearly a year of arbitrary detention, reports of forced confessions and access to legal counsel granted just 18 days prior to the trial, Vietnamese authorities presented no evidence of 'terrorism' in sentencing the three human rights activists," Mr Diem said.
In Sydney, Chau's wife, Quynh Trang Truong, has appealed to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, saying she was "filled with both faint hopes and great despair" and said her husband was not guilty of the charges.
She told SBS News she does not believe Australia has done enough.
“I feel the Australian government probably hasn’t done much for my husband,” she said.
“He is not well, he needs treatment for his enlarged prostate and his condition has been serious.”
The Australian director at Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson describes the federal government’s response as being “pitifully weak.”
“The government has treated this case like any other consular case without bearing in mind the reality that these are political cases, Vietnam has a history of prosecuting people who peacefully criticise the government.”
According to Human Rights Watch, at least 131 people are behind bars in Vietnam for exercising their basic rights.
Viet Tan said that since 2017, Vietnam had arrested dozens of bloggers and human rights defenders in an unprecedented crackdown on free expression that includes posting content on Facebook and taking part in peaceful protests.
It said the Australian was convicted in a closed trial, which was a violation of international law.
"Viet Tan demands the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and will continue to highlight the Vietnamese government's ongoing human rights violations," it said in a statement.