The family of Australian father of two, Chau Van Kham, are this week marking the two year anniversary of his arrest and incarceration in Viet Nam. The former baker from Sydney, who suffers from a number of medical issues, will also be turning 72 years old. But he won’t be talking to his wife and family on that day. He hasn’t spoken to family here in Australia for two years.
Mr Chau, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for being a member of the political party Viet Tan, is not allowed to speak to his family in Australia directly and any letters he writes to them are read by the Vietnamese authorities before they can be sent on to his family.
Mr Chau’s wife of 38 years, Chau Thi Quynh Trang, said not being able to speak directly to her husband for almost two years has taken a terrible toll on her and the rest of the family.
Prison conditions in Viet Nam are notoriously harsh, with regular testimonies from detainees about the poor food quality, lack of drinking water and the absence of adequate medical treatment. Furthermore, prisoners of conscience often face additional harassment, intimidation and ill-treatment.
“My husband went to Viet Nam to monitor the human rights situation on the ground there,” Mrs Chau said. “Within hours of arriving, he was arrested and I haven’t spoken to him since. We miss him so much – just to hear his voice, hear that he is OK – would be better than this terrible silence.”
In almost two years, Mr Chau has been permitted only one family visit from his sister in June 2020, and a monthly 10-minutes phone call with his nephew since August. Any visit from family in Viet Nam is now more difficult, even if he were to be given family access, after he was moved to a prison three hours outside Ho Chi Minh City. Visits from consular officials are also infrequent.
Mr Chau’s lawyer, Dan Phuong Nguyen, said the lack of information surrounding the case from Australian government officials had been frustrating. “We know very little about how Kham is doing and how much progress officials here are putting into securing his release. At his age, with his medical issues, he should be a priority and we implore Marise Payne and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to do more to ensure Mr Chau will soon be home with his family.”
Mr Chau Van Kham, a Vietnamese Australian, was detained in Vietnam in January 2019.
A baker from Sydney, Mr Chau joined an unregistered Vietnamese overseas-based political party, Viet Tan, in 2010. In addition to advocating for democracy and human rights in Vietnam, he also organised fundraising events for his organisation within the Vietnamese community in Australia.
Mr Chau was found guilty of “terrorism to oppose the people’s government” under article 113 of the 2015 Penal Code and sentenced to 12 years in prison by a Vietnamese court.
Up until his appeal, Mr Chau was being held in a detention centre. He was then moved to a new location without the knowledge of his family.
In June 2020, the family was informed he had been moved to Thu Duc prison, three hours from Ho Chi Minh City. A consular visit was also received around this time.
Amnesty International Australia, Dan Phuong Nguyen and Chau Trang have met with representatives of Foreign Minister Marise Payne, DFAT and other Members of Parliament to urge the Australian government to do more to bring Mr Chau home.