Vietnam Jails ‘Boat People’ Bound for Australia in Breach of Pledge


2016-12-13
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Trial Set for Four Vietnamese 'Boat People' Who Were Repatriated by Australia Vietnamese people huddle on a fishing boat bound for Australia in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Huynh Thi My Van

A Vietnamese court on Tuesday sentenced four “boat people” to prison terms as long as three years and six months under Hanoi’s new immigration law, RFA’s Vietnamese Service has learned.

“Nguyen Giao Thong is sentenced to three years and six months in prison. Nguyen Tuan Kiet is sentenced to 30 months in prison. Nguyen Tuan Khanh and Tran Thi My Van, each received 18-month suspended sentences,” Vo An Don, lawyer representing the defendants told RFA.

“We can appeal to the higher court if one of the defendants sends a demand to the appeals court,” the attorney said.

The four defendants were among 21 people who on left Vietnam on a fishing boat on May 18 and headed to Australia in search of work. They reached Australian waters on June 9, when they were detained by Australia Navy.

They were returned to Vietnam by airplane and arrived at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City on June 16.

Their sentences came despite promises some of them say they received from Australian and Vietnamese officials that they would not be prosecuted if they agreed to go back to Vietnam.

The convictions for “organizing for others to flee the country illegally” come under article 349 of Vietnam’s new penal code.

It marks the third time this year that the Vietnamese government has tried some of the country's citizens who were returned by Australia.

In the two previous trials in Binh Thuan province eight people were sentenced to jail for terms ranging from 24 to 36 months.

New Human Smuggling Agreement

The convictions also come after Australia’s immigration minister announced that the two countries reached new memorandum of understanding (MOU) on human smuggling.

While details of MOU are not spelled out, Dutton said in a statement posted on his official website Monday that the agreement “is consistent with both countries' domestic and international legal obligations.”

Known as a hardline anti-immigrant politician, Dutton’s release called the MOU a significant milestone in Australia's bilateral relationship with Vietnam and an important part of its broader efforts to counter irregular migration.

"The Coalition Government is committed to protecting our borders, stamping out people smuggling and preventing people risking their lives at sea," Dutton said.

"Australia's borders are stronger than ever and our tough border protection policies are here to stay,” he added.

According to the release, the Australian and Vietnamese Governments repatriated 113 Vietnamese nationals from three vessels intercepted by the Australian Border Force under Canberra’s zero-tolerance posture on boat people known as Operation Sovereign Borders.

It’s unclear if the 21 people on the boat that included the four Vietnamese sentenced today were included in the head count.

Reported by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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