Vietnam jails Australian citizen for 12 years on 'terrorism' charges

Police escort Chau Van Kham and Tran Van Quyen to their trial at a court in Ho Chi Minh city

HANOI (Reuters) - A court in Vietnam sentenced a 70-year-old Vietnamese-Australian man on Monday to 12 years in prison after finding him guilty of "terrorism", a lawyer who attended the trial told Reuters.

The Ministry of Public Security said in a statement on its official news website that Chau Van Kham was being tried for being a member of the U.S.-based human rights group Viet Tan, which Vietnam regards as a "terrorist" body. It made no mention of the verdict.

It said Kham had helped raised 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, Vietnam's ruling Communist Party retains tight media censorship and does not tolerate criticism from both within and outside Vietnam.

The People's Court of Ho Chi Mih City also ordered Kham, 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, Kham 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," added Mieng, who is representing a co-defendant of Kham.

Kham entered Vietnam from Cambodia in January this year when he gave $400 (£313) to a man named Nguyen Van Vien to fund the operations of Viet Tan, according to the police statement.

"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 organisation's chairman, Do Hoang Diem, said in the statement.

According to Vietnamese police, Kham, a navy veteran of the now defunct U.S.-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 U.S. citizen Michael Nguyen who had been found guilty of "attempting to overthrow the state".


(Reporting by Khanh Vu and James Pearson)