Australian National Returns Home After Being Freed in Vietnam

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Australian National Returns Home After Being Freed in Vietnam

Chau Van Kham, a member of the banned pro-democracy group Viet Tan, was arrested during a trip to Vietnam in 2019.

Australian National Returns Home After Being Freed in Vietnam
Credit: Depositphotos

The Australian national Chau Van Kham has reunited with his family in Sydney after being released from prison in Vietnam, four-and-a-half years after his arrest on terrorism charges.

Chau, a retired baker who is active in diaspora political organizations, was detained in Vietnam in January 2019 after meeting with a friend and fellow pro-democracy activist. After a trial later that year that lasted just five hours, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for “financing terrorism.”

As noted by the rights group Amnesty International, the only evidence that state prosecutors presented was Chau’s membership of Viet Tan, a group that advocates for democracy in Vietnam, and which Hanoi considers a terrorist organization, in large part due to its close association with the defunct South Vietnamese government that the communist north overthrew in 1975.

“We share the happy news that Mr Chau Van Kham is well and has returned to his family today,” the 74-year-old’s lawyer, Dan Nguyen said in a statement this morning.

“On behalf of Mr Chau Van Kham, his wife and two children: we wish to thank the Australian government for their care and support whilst in custody; especially the tremendous efforts by various Departments in securing his return to Australia and to his family today.”

Defense Minister and Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles welcomed the news of Chau’s overnight release and thanked the Vietnamese government, according to a report by the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC).

“This has been done on the basis of humanitarian grounds, and in the spirit of friendship which exists between Australia and Vietnam,” Marles said.

“This has been the result of careful advocacy on the part of the Australian government with the Vietnamese government over a number of months now, including the Prime Minister’s visit to Vietnam back in June.”

The news was applauded both by Chau’s family – their lawyer said that they were “absolutely emotional” following his release – and by the rights groups that have campaigned for his release since 2019.

An Amnesty campaigner said that Chau’s release was “momentous day for the movement to free wrongly imprisoned people around the world,” while Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch described it as “fantastic news.”

According to the ABC, Chau’s family had been hopeful for his release after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s visit to Vietnam in June, which saw the two nations cement their growing strategic partnership while marking the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic ties. Following the trip, Albanese drew criticism for not publicly raising Chau’s case, and those of the more than 150 other political prisoners that remain behind bars for various forms of activism and dissent.

The release does appear to vindicate Australia’s quiet approach to Chau’s case. At the same time, it suggests that Chau’s release is less a sign of growing leniency from the Vietnamese security state – indeed, the story of the last few years shows much the opposite trend – than a favor to a burgeoning strategic partner.