Australia’s government should press Vietnam to free an Australian citizen and two other men convicted on charges of engaging in terrorism, a rights group said on Thursday, adding that the charges against the man and the two Vietnamese democracy advocates convicted with him were unsupported by evidence presented at their trial.
Chau Van Kham, a resident of Sydney, Australia, and member of the banned U.S.-based Viet Tan opposition party, was sentenced on Nov. 11 to a prison term of 12 years, while his colleagues Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen were handed terms of 11 and 10 years respectively.
Australia should now press, both publicly and in private, for their convictions to be overturned and the men set free, Human Rights Watch said.
“These men are not terrorists, HRW said. “Instead [they] were prosecuted simply for their affiliation with a foreign political group deemed a threat to the Communist Party of Vietnam.”
Labeled a terrorist group by Vietnam in October 2016, Viet Tan describes itself instead as “committed to peaceful, nonviolent struggle” to promote democracy in Vietnam, HRW said.
“The activities listed in the indictment and attributed to Viet Tan, such as making travel arrangements to Vietnam, organizing leaflets for protests, expanding its network, writing articles, and sending people abroad for training, do not amount to terrorism,” the rights group said.
Writing in a Nov. 25 letter to Australian foreign minister Marise Payne, Pearson cited “myriad due process concerns with this case which violate international law and should be raised with the Vietnamese government.”
Among these, Pearson said, were the short duration of the trial, the nature of the prosecution’s evidence, and the lack of defendants’ access to legal representation.
Pearson noted in her letter to Payne that Australia has recently strengthened its economic ties with Vietnam, signing a Strategic Partnership in 2018.
“But a prosperous economy means nothing if people are denied of basic human rights. Australia should not tolerate Vietnam’s systemic abuses of rights for the sake of prosperity and stability,” Pearson said.
In a separate statement this week, Australian parliamentarian Chris Hayes said that Chau, a 70-year-old retired baker, had lived for more than 30 years in Australia’s Western Sydney and “has had a longstanding interest in human rights.”
The verdict against Chau now calls into question Vietnam’s commitment to advancing human rights “and whether security partnerships with Vietnam and Hanoi are at all possible,” Hayes said.
“It is certainly disheartening, if not infuriating, to see that the human rights situation in Vietnam continues to decline.”
“We urge the Vietnamese Government to apply the principles of fairness and compassion, to allow Mr. Chau to immediately and unconditionally return back to Australia,” Hayes said.
A broken promise
Meanwhile, three Vietnamese men sent back to Vietnam last year after leading a group of migrants by boat to Australia in search of work were sentenced by a court in Quang Binh province to prison terms for “organizing others to flee to a foreign country,” sources said.
Tran Ngoc Chau, Nguyen Trung Kin, and Pham The Nhan were sentenced on Nov. 27 to terms of seven, five, and four and a half years in prison respectively despite assurances by Australia that Vietnam would not jail them on their return.
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service on condition of anonymity, one member of the group of 17 said that Australia had promised the men they were being sent home on condition they would not be tried or jailed in Vietnam.
“But a trial was held anyway,” the man said, adding that a court officer at the trial said that in spite of Australia’s promise, the three men described as organizers of the trip would still be tried.
All members of the group were fishermen whose livelihoods were destroyed by an April 2016 toxic waste spill that devastated coastal areas of three Vietnamese provinces, leaving thousands without work, he said.
Attempts by RFA to reach Australia’s embassy in Hanoi for comment were unsuccessful Thursday.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Richard Finney.