A court in southern Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City on Monday rejected the appeal of an Australian citizen convicted last year on charges of engaging in terrorism, sending him and two men convicted with him back to prison to serve their full terms.
Chau Van Kham, 70, a resident of Sydney Australia and member of the banned U.S.-based Viet Tan opposition party, was sentenced on Nov. 11, 2019 to a prison term of 12 years. Two men convicted with him—Nguyen Van Vieng and Tran Van Quyen—were handed terms of 11 and 10 years respectively.
Labeled a terrorist group by Vietnam in October 2016, Viet Tan describes itself instead as committed to peaceful, nonviolent struggle to promote democracy and human rights in Vietnam, and all three of those convicted had rejected prosecutors’ accusations of terrorism in appealing their sentences, one of their lawyers said.
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Monday following the court hearing, defense attorney Nguyen Van Mieng said that the three defendants admitted joining Viet Tan in 2010 but said that terrorism had never been proposed as a tactic in any of the meetings they had attended.
“Chau said that if he had ever thought that Viet Tan promoted terrorism, he would never have joined,” Nguyen said, adding that Nguyen Van Vieng also declared that he had never heard terrorism planned or discussed at any Viet Tan meeting.
'The latest victims'
In a statement given on Monday by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Australia—where Chau had worked as a baker—voiced disappointment that Chau’s appeal had been rejected.
“We are concerned about the length of Mr Chau’s sentence, particularly given his health and welfare may be severely impacted by serving such a sentence at his age,” DAFTA said in a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“Vietnamese authorities understand our strong interest in his wealth and welfare,” DAFTA said, adding, “Australian officials have raised Mr Chau’s case and will continue to do so.”
Meanwhile, also speaking to ABC, Elaine Pearson of Human Rights Watch called Chau and his co-defendants “the latest victims in a spiraling crackdown on dissent and free speech within Vietnam—they are among hundreds of political prisoners who are currently detained.”
“The Australian Government should redouble its efforts to press strongly for Chau’s return to Australia,” Pearson said.
"On some occasions, Vietnam has allowed political prisoners to be released into exile in Europe or the U.S., but that will only happen if there is strong pressure from the Australian Government," she said.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huynh Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.