Vietnam News

Australian Chau Van Kham breaks his silence after being imprisoned in Vietnam for more than four years

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Australian man Chau Van Kham has said the past four years in a Vietnamese prison has not dampened his fight for democracy in the South-East Asian nation.

Mr Chau, 74, was arrested in January 2019 after meeting with a local activist in Ho Chi Minh City on national security charges.

Later that year he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for being a member of the group Viet Tan and “financing terrorism”, in a short trial that was described as a “sham” by his family and that human rights groups said raised questions about due process.

In a press conference, he expressed his heartfelt thanks to his family, the government and his community for securing his release and safe return to Australia this week.

Mr Chau said he had no regrets and would continue his advocacy for democratic reform in Vietnam.

He said he never feared he would not come home.

“I never fear, because I’m sure I’m doing the right thing. So I always believe people [in] Australia, my community …  my family always supported me,” he said. 

“I never regret when I go to Vietnam to do [my] duty,” he said, referring to the fact finding mission that led to his arrest.

He maintained his peace of mind during questioning from Vietnamese officials by relying on the mantra of accepting the things he could not change, finding the courage to change the things he could, and the intelligence to know the difference.

Above all, he wanted to thank his wife and his sons, Daniel and Dennis, saying he was proud of them.

“[I’m] very sorry my darling,” he said, gesturing to his wife.

Seeing her for the first time at the airport after prison reminded him of his wedding day, he said.

“My heart beat.”

Ms Chau had long been concerned about his health in prison, and she said she was grateful to have her husband home at last. 

“Thank you to the Australian government for bringing him home. My family is very happy,” she said.

Mr Chau said he was not subjected to hard labour in Vietnam’s prison system due to his age.

“If you want to survive in any hard condition, you must have [a] plan yourself to keep your body going, [and] even your mind.

At times he resorted to observing the movements of lizards and ants in his prison cell to pass the time, and read any letters, books or magazines he could find.

Dan Phuong Nguyen, a lawyer representing the family, said she knew the Chaus for a long time, and his case had turned her from a suburban rights lawyer into a human rights lawyer.

She said she initially lodged an application for an international prisoner transfer in August 2020, but the process was delayed by the COVID pandemic and negotiations.

“It’s been a long journey, I never gave up,” she said.

“But we’re here today with a free man back in Australia, in the arms of his family, where he belongs.”

She said there are no conditions on his release and he is free in Australia.

Mr Chau arrived back in Australia on Monday morning after what the Australian government described as months of “careful advocacy”.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong raised his case at the highest levels during a visit last year, while last month Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he was hopeful of an international prisoner transfer after his visit to Vietnam last month.

Chau advocated for democracy in Vietnam

Mr Chau fled the Vietnam War and arrived as a refugee in Australia in the 1980s, where he met his wife, Trang.

They had two children, Daniel and Dennis, and Mr Chau ran a local laundry and bakery in Sydney.

He has long protested and advocated for democracy for his home country.

He was an active member of the group Viet Tan in Australia, which put him on the radar of Vietnamese authorities after he allegedly entered the country via Cambodia on a false document.

Mr Chau said he did not regret entering Vietnam in this way, saying he suspected he would have been arrested as soon as he landed at the airport in Vietnam due to his links to Viet Tan. 

Viet Tan operates lawfully in Australia as a pro-democracy advocacy group, but the Vietnamese government has designated it as a terrorist organisation.

Vietnam is a one-party state with a reputation for cracking down on freedom of expression.

Some 150 people are currently jailed in the South-East Asian nation for peaceful acts of free speech, Human Rights Watch has said.

“I still worry for any democracy activists in Vietnam,” Mr Chau said.

At one point, Mr Chau was unable to be located by his family in the maze of Vietnam’s prison system, which the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found to be a case of forcible disappearance. 

His mother-in-law also passed away from COVID-19 while he was imprisoned. 

Ms Nguyen said UK-based lawyer Michael Polak was integral in getting his case before the UN working group, which determined Mr Chau’s detention was arbitrary and therefore unlawful under international law, and they ordered his immediate unconditional release.

“It is a wonderful day for Mr Chau and his family and one that they were beginning to feel might never come,” Mr Polak said in a statement.

“Although we celebrate Mr Chau’s release today, it is clear that he should never have been convicted or faced such a serious sentence under the false description of terrorism.

“Mr Chau’s belief in democracy for those in Vietnam is one that is based on universal rights and should not have resulted in his persecution.”

By Erin Handley & Lydia Feng – Australian Broacasting Corporation (ABC) News – July 13, 2023

Translate / Dịch

En poursuivant la visite de ce site, vous acceptez l’utilisation de traceurs (cookies) vous permettant juste d'optimiser techniquement votre navigation. Plus d’informations

En poursuivant la visite de ce site, vous acceptez l’utilisation de traceurs (cookies) vous permettant d'optimiser techniquement votre navigation. Aucune information sur votre utilisation de ce site ne sera partagée auprès de quelconques médias sociaux, de sociétés commerciales ou d'agences de publicité et d'analyse. Cliquer sur le bouton "Accepter", équivaut à votre consentement.