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Australia Urged to Help Retired Sydney Baker Jailed Since 2019 in Vietnam on Terrorism Charges

This picture from the Vietnam News Agency taken and released on Nov. 11, 2019 shows Australian citizen Chau Van Kham (L) escorted for trial in Ho Chi Minh City.

Campaigners are calling for Australia to seek the release of a retired Sydney baker jailed in Vietnam on terrorism charges. They’re urging Canberra to make Chau Van Kham’s case a priority during the 17th Australia-Vietnam human rights dialogue that takes place Wednesday.

Chau Van Kham was detained in Ho Chi Minh City in January 2019 and later sentenced to 12 years in prison for terrorism offences.

The 72-year-old retired baker, who arrived in Australia as a refugee from Vietnam about 40-years ago, is a member of the Viet Tan, an opposition party that aims to promote democracy and human rights.

Chau’s family in Sydney believes the terrorism charges against him were “ludicrous.” They have repeatedly appealed to the Australian government for help to secure his freedom.

Rights groups are urging Canberra to raise the case during online talks Wednesday with Vietnamese officials. There has been no response, so far, from Australian officials.

Elaine Pearson, the Australia director at Human Rights Watch, says Chau’s incarceration should be a priority for Canberra.

“He has been charged and convicted of terrorism simply because he has been involved in a peaceful political organization. So, I think if there can be one concrete outcome from this dialogue that is happening with Australia it should be pressing for the release and return of Chau Van Kham to Australia,” Pearson said.

Chau is being held in prison about three hours from Ho Chi Minh City, and is reportedly detained with 12 other foreigners in his cell. His family fears that his medical conditions — reportedly glaucoma, kidney stones, high blood pressure and prostate problems that require medication — will be exacerbated by difficult conditions in jail.

Australia’s bilateral relationship with Vietnam has grown in recent years. Trade has flourished. In 2021, Australia was one of Vietnam’s top ten trading partners.

The Australia-Vietnam human rights dialogue was first held in Hanoi in 2002.