Four Vietnamese citizens are scheduled to be tried next month on charges that they masterminded an attempt to get their extended family to flee the country for Australia in 2015, RFA’s Vietnamese service has learned.
Tran Thi Lua, Nguyen Minh Quyet, Huynh Thi Kieu, Nguyen Dinh Quy, and Nguyen Minh Quyet are scheduled to be tried on April 5 on charges they violated article 275 of Vietnam’s penal code, Tran Thi Lua, told RFA in March 29 telephone interview.
The four face from two to seven years in jail for violating the law that makes “organizing and/or coercing other persons to flee abroad or to stay abroad” a crime. Article 275 is one of the laws the nation uses to combat human trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation.
According to the investigatory report, 46 people including 15 children, fled Vietnam by boat on July 1, 2015, and arrived in Australia’s waters on July 21. They were interrogated by Australian authorities and were returned to Vietnam on July 25.
Tran Thi Lua told RFA she expected to get a four-year sentence for organizing the attempt.
“I was the one who initiated the trip so I will get four years,” she said. “The others will get three years.”
Tran Thi Lua told RFA that she wasn’t involved in human trafficking, but was searching for a better life for her family.
“We are not traffickers,” she said. “Our lives here are so difficult. It is so hard to make enough to raise our children. That was why we decided to leave.”
She said they split the 440 million Vietnamese dong (U.S. $17,600) needed for the boat, fuel, and food for the trip.
“We chipped in,” she said. “Those who had more contributed more, while those who had less contributed less.”
Tran Thi Lua and the other three charged with a crime have been interrogated many times by the police since they returned, despite assurances when they came back to Vietnam that they wouldn’t be punished, she said.
“When we arrived at the airport, one policewoman told us that on behalf of the government of Vietnam, they had pardoned us,” she said. “They said they would let us come back to live with our community and nobody would be jailed, but they detained us, and now they prosecute us.”
According to the prosecutor’s report, the four were arrested in August. Lua was released in November for a health issue. Huynh Thi Kieu was not detained because she has three small children, but her husband, Quy is in detention, Lua told RFA.
In April 2015 another boat carrying another group of 46 Vietnamese refugees was also returned by Australia to Vietnam.
Doan Viet Trung, former chairman of a Vietnamese community organization in Australia, told RFA that a source in Vietnam told him at least two of those people are in detention awaiting a trial.
“We think when Australia returned the Vietnamese refugees, they definitely forced some people to jail,” Doan Viet Trung told RFA. “As an Australian, I think this is a wrong thing to do.”
While waiting for the trial, Lua told RFA she is very worried about her future and her children as there is no one to care for them while she is in jail.
“The Australian government said that they would return us, and that they and the Vietnamese government had agreed not to jail us and let us live with our community, but now they treat us like this,” she said.
Reported and translated by Viet Ha for RFA's Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.