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Thayer Consultancy Background Brief

ABN # 65 648 097 123


Australian Citizen Detained in
Vietnam on Terrorism Charges
September 3, 2019

Q1. Are you aware of the outcome of this year's Vietnam-Australia human rights
dialogue, and was Van Kham Chau mentioned?
ANSWER: The 16th Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue took place on 29 August
in Canberra. DFAT has published the Australian Statement on last year's dialogue but
has not yet published any statement for this year’s dialogue.
I would be surprised if the Van Kham Chau case wasn't raised. Chau has been detained
since January. Chau has received continuing publicity in the Australian media. It is my
understanding that Australia always raises the cases of Australian's detained in
Vietnam at these closed discussions.
Chau is receiving Australian consular assistance and the ABC reported he has received
eight visits. An Australian consular officer "advised him that there had been high-level
representations on his behalf." The date of this advice was not revealed.
Q2. Why do you think Prime Minister Scott Morrison didn't bring it up in public but
has been strident in his criticism of Beijing's treatment of Yang Hengjun1?
ANSWER: In June, prior to Morrison’s visit to Hanoi, Human Rights Watch (HRW)
publicly called on Australia to raise human right concerns and listed priority cases. Van
Kham Chau was not mentioned at that time in HRW's submission to the Australian
Government. However, in a statement released on 28 August HRW specifically
appealed on the Australian government to publicly calle for Van Kham Chau’s
immediate release.
Chau's case may be more complex than past cases involving Australian members of
the Viet Tan party who were detained in Vietnam. Initially, Chau was detained for
participating in activities to overthrow the Vietnamese government. This offence
comes under Article 109 of the Penal Code and carries a penalty of twelve to twenty
years in prison, life imprisonment or death. On 29 July, this charge was later changed
to "terrorism against the people's government" under Article 113 of the Penal Code.
The penalty for this offence ranges from ten to fifteen years.

1
Dr. Yang Hengjun is an Australian academic and writer; he was a visiting scholar at Columbia
University in New York at the time of his arrest.
2

The Vietnamese have reported that Chau entered Vietnam from Cambodia on forged
travel documents and was allegedly carrying other "forged documents of agencies and
organisations." Vietnam is now investigating a network of seven persons connected
to Chau. His detention order has been extended to December.
I can only speculate that the importance of Prime Minister Scott Morrison official state
visit to Vietnam, the first official visit by an Australian prime minister in twenty-five
years, overshadowed the Van Kham Chau case. It is an open question whether Chau's
case was raised by Morrison or any of his official entourage during their visit to Hanoi.
I can only reiterate my understanding that Australian officials would have raised
Chau's case at this year's annual human rights dialogue that followed Prime Minister
Morrison’s visit to. Hanoi.
Australia's relations with Vietnam are going quite well with the agreement last year to
raise relations to a Strategic Partnership. Vietnam's arrest and detention of Chau
cannot be viewed as politically motivated against the Australian government. This
contrasts with Australia's current testy relations with China and the very high
likelihood the arrest of Yang Hengjun on charges of espionage was deliberately
engineered by Chinese government officials to put signal displeasure with the
Morrison government.
The Yang Hengjun case appears to follow the pattern of the arrest of two Canadian
citizens and one British former diplomat for political reasons at a time when bilateral
ties between Beijing-Ottawa and Beijing-London are strained over the Huawei issue.

Media Identification: Carl Thayer is emeritus professor at The University of


New South Wales, Canberra or Carl Thayer is emeritus professor at The University of
New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra.
Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Australian Citizen Detained in Vietnam on
Terrorism Charges,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, September 3, 2019. All
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Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and
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