Australian Citizen Jailed in Vietnam ‘Vanishes’ in Custody

Concern is growing for an Australian citizen who has disappeared in Vietnam’s prison system while serving a 12-year term for engaging in acts of “terrorism,” according to media reports.

Chau Van Kham, a resident of Australia and member of the banned U.S.-based Viet Tan opposition party, has not been seen or heard from for nearly four months, Australia’s Guardian newspaper said on June 6.

Labeled a terrorist group by Vietnam in October 2016, Viet Tan describes itself instead as committed to peaceful, nonviolent struggle to promote democracy and human rights in Vietnam.

Sentenced on Jan. 19, 2019, and held initially in Ho Chi Minh City, the 70-year-old Chau has now “disappeared” in custody, with no word of his present whereabouts given to family members or to consular officials, who were last in contact with him at the beginning of the year, the Guardian said.

Potentially life-threatening conditions from which Chau, a Sydney resident, suffers may now be made worse by the conditions of his confinement, Chau’s son told the Guardian in its report, adding that his father has been denied “any forms of communication with the outside world.”

“I worry not only for his health but his mental state . . . it frightens me [to think] how he’s doing inside,” Chau’s son said.

“He’s now on a long journey until his release with no support from the Australian government at all, it seems like they’ve forgotten him.”

Call for government action

In a May 27 letter to Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australian parliamentarian Chris Hayes meanwhile expressed “deep concern” over Chau’s continued imprisonment and urged swift government action to protect his well-being.

“I am advised by Mr. Chau’s Australian lawyer that all prisoner visitation rights have been canceled, and further [that] Mr. Chau has not been able to make or receive telephone calls from family or consular officials,” Hayes wrote.

Vietnamese officials cited concerns over the spread of coronavirus for the restrictions on prisoner contacts, Hayes said, adding that when Chau’s sister attempted to visit him on May 10 to deliver food and medicine, she was told only that he was no longer held at that prison.

“In view of the above, it would be appreciated if you could take all possible steps to secure Mr. Chau’s welfare, including all feasible and appropriate action to ensure that ongoing consular assistance is provided and that Mr. Chau is given access to his prescribed medication,” Hayes wrote.

Dissent is not tolerated in Vietnam, and authorities routinely use a set of vague provisions in the penal code to detain dozens of writers, bloggers, and activists calling for greater freedoms in the one-party communist state.

Estimates of the number of prisoners of conscience now held in Vietnam’s jails vary widely.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has said that authorities held 138 political prisoners as of October 2019, while Defend the Defenders has suggested that at least 240 are in detention, with 36 convicted last year alone.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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