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Australia Urges Vietnam to Free Jailed Democracy Supporter

FILE - Australian man Chau Van Kham, left, is escorted into a court room in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam, Nov. 11, 2019.
FILE - Australian man Chau Van Kham, left, is escorted into a court room in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam, Nov. 11, 2019.

The Australian government is urging Vietnam to free on health grounds a 72-year-old Vietnamese-born Australian serving a 12-year prison sentence for supporting a pro-democracy group.

A court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced Chau Van Kham in 2019 on terrorism convictions related to his support for democracy group Viet Tan.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she had argued for Kham’s release in a conversation with Vietnam’s Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính in Hanoi last year and in a phone call with Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Bùi Thanh Sơn last week.

“In relation to Mr. Chau Van Kham, respecting the Vietnamese legal system and we do, our concern though is his age. He is in his 70s, he is unwell,” Payne told reporters.

“We have sought an appropriate consideration of his circumstances given those facts and to have him allowed to return to Australia,” Payne said.

The South Vietnamese army veteran had lived in Australia since the early 1980s. He is a retired Sydney baker and was arrested during a visit to Vietnam in 2019.

The Tuoi Tre newspaper reported that Kham was found guilty of “terrorism to oppose the people’s administration” after a half-day trial.

It said two Vietnamese men, Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen, were also sentenced to 11 and 10 years respectively on the same charge.

The newspaper described the three men as members of Viet Tan, which Vietnam’s Communist government has branded “terrorist” since 2016.

It said Kham was in charge of the group’s Australian branch and was assigned to raise funds to finance what it called “reactionary activities” in Vietnam.

Viet Tan called the charges “baseless” and said the legal proceedings were a sham.

The newspaper said Kham was arrested when he crossed the border from Cambodia into Vietnam using false ID documents.

He will be deported after serving his prison term, the newspaper said.

Human Rights Watch said Kham received “what is essentially a death sentence” because of his age and health needs.

His family say his health problems include glaucoma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, prostate problems and kidney stones.