Human Rights Watch presses Australia to release Vietnamese detainees


In a letter released today to Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne, Human Rights Watch said the Australian government should publicly and privately press the Vietnamese government to overturn the convictions of a detained Australian and two of his Vietnamese colleagues.

In November 2019, Australian citizen Chau Van Kham and his Vietnamese colleagues, Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen, were sentenced to 12, 11, and 10 years respectively for their involvement with the overseas Viet Tan party, which Hanoi considers a terrorist organization.

The party, however, has explicitly rejected violence, stating that it is “convinced that nonviolent means are the most effective for generating maximum civic participation … to contribute to Vietnam’s modernization and reform.”

Chau Van Kham is appealing his sentence. He has had hardly any access to legal representation and his consular visits are monitored.

“Payne has rightly condemned the detention conditions of the Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun and urged his release, so it is puzzling that there has been no similar statement raising concerns about Chau Van Kham’s treatment even though he has been detained since January,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch.

Vietnamese authorities prosecuted the three men for “terrorism that aims to overthrow the people’s administration,” accusing them of ties to Viet Tan.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security officially labeled Viet Tan a terrorist group in October 2016. Viet Tan had a history of resistance to the Vietnamese communist government in the 1980s, but more recently has said it is “committed to peaceful, nonviolent struggle.”

“These men are not terrorists,” Pearson said. “They are being prosecuted simply for their affiliation with a foreign political group deemed a threat to the Communist Party of Vietnam.”

The trial lasted only 4.5 hours, suggesting that the verdict was predetermined.

Chau Van Kham has had monthly consular visits from the Australian embassy, but prison officials and other Vietnamese government officials have been present, and the meetings have been video recorded, which may have hampered his ability to speak freely.

“The short duration of the trial, the nature of the prosecution’s evidence, the lack of access to legal representation – there are myriad due process concerns that the Australian government should be raising with Vietnamese authorities,” Pearson said. “Chau Van Kham is 70 years old and has prostate issues. The notorious conditions inside Vietnam’s prisons make it critical for him to be released sooner rather than later.” (Source: HRW)