A court in Vietnam yesterday sentenced a 70-year-old Vietnamese-Australian man to 12 years in prison after finding him guilty of “terrorism,” a lawyer who attended the trial said.
The Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security said in a statement on its official news Web site that Chau Van Kham was being tried for being a member of the US-based human rights group Viet Tan, which Vietnam regards as a “terrorist” body. It made no mention of the verdict.
It said Chau had helped raise funds for anti-state activities, joined anti-Vietnam protests in Australia and recruited members for Viet Tan.
Despite sweeping economic reform and increasing openness to social change, the Vietnamese Communist Party retains tight media censorship and does not tolerate criticism from both within and outside the country.
Chau was jailed alongside Nguyen Van Vien, who got 11 years, and Tran Van Quyen, who was sentenced to 10 years, both on the same charges.
The People’s Court of Ho Chi Mih City also ordered Chau, a retired baker from New South Wales of Vietnamese origin, to be deported after serving the sentence, lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng said.
“At the trial, Chau said he loves Vietnam and doesn’t have any intention to carry out terrorism activities in the country,” Mieng said. “The prosecutors stuck to the idea that he’s a member of Viet Tan to charge him with terrorism.”
“The jail terms for political prisoners are getting longer and longer,” said Mieng, who is representing a codefendant of Chau.
A police statement said that Chau entered Vietnam from Cambodia in January, when he gave US$400 to a man named Nguyen Van Vien to fund the operations of Viet Tan.
“This is a very serious case of national security infringement led by Viet Tan’s key people,” it said.
In a statement published last week, Viet Tan dismissed the case as a “sham trial.”
“Viet Tan will continue to support human rights defenders on the ground. Chau Van Kham entered Vietnam to gain first-hand insight into the human rights situation in the country,” the organization’s chairman, Do Hoang Diem, said in the statement.
According to Vietnamese police, Chau, a navy veteran of the now defunct US-backed state of South Vietnam, sought asylum in Malaysia after leaving Vietnam in 1975 before moving to Australia in 1983.
Last week, a Ho Chi Minh City Appeals Court upheld a 12-year prison sentence against US citizen Michael Nguyen, who had been found guilty of “attempting to overthrow the state.”
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