The family of a 71-year-old Western Sydney man jailed overseas on trumped up charges are begging the Australian Government to help bring him home.
“I miss him a lot and want him to come back soon,” his wife Quynh Trang Truong told 9News through tears.
“He’s always been the rock of our household and it kind of fell apart, when they took him away,” added their son Dennis Thong Kham Chau.
Mr Van Kham has lived in Sydney for 40 years, raising a family and running a successful bakery and laundromat.
Devoted to his adopted homeland, he advocates for democracy – a belief that has landed him in jail.
The family fears he will die soon unless the government intervenes in his imprisonment, which has been condemned by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Mr Van Kham’s barrister Michael Polak, an international lawyer based in London, is making a submission on the case to the United Nations.
“He should be enjoying his retirement in Sydney,” Mr Polak said.
“We call on the Australian Government to raise this at the highest level.”
Mr Van Kham was visiting Vietnam when he was arrested on “terrorism” charges for being a member of the pro-democracy organisation Viet Tan.
He had met with another member of the group when he was detained in January 2019 in Hoi Chu Minh City.
His case went to trial 10 months later – but he wasn’t told the allegations he was facing beforehand, was forbidden from meeting a lawyer privately and the Australian Consulate was not allowed into the courtroom.
With no independent witnesses nor evidence of violence, Mr Van Kham was convicted of “Terrorism to Oppose the People’s Government” and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.
Viet Tan is described by the UN as “a peaceful organisation advocating for democratic reform”.
Mr Van Kham was also fined for using a fake ID to cross into Vietnam from Cambodia – an offence he and his legal team does not dispute.
He suffers from glaucoma, high blood pressure, prostate problems, cholesterol and kidney stones and needs medication.
Mr Polak argues Mr Van Kham’s detention is arbitrary as he was convicted for his beliefs rather than anything he had actually done.
“There’s no evidence he’s committed any offences, just that he’s a member of this group, described by the United Nations, as a peaceful democratic movement and that’s why he’s convicted,” he said.
The family’s Sydney solicitor Dan Nguyen said Mr Van Kham has always been a hard-working family man who paid his taxes and values the Australian way of life.
“He’s 71 soon to be 72,” she said. “If nothing’s done, he will die in jail.”
The legal team is timing the UN submission to coincide with Liberation Day on 30 April, a date when pardons are traditionally granted in Vietnam.
Thu Doc prison, located about three hours out of Ho Chi Minh City, is known for hard labor and cramped conditions.
Mr Van Kham’s former cellmate Michael Phuong Minh Nguyen, a US citizen who was released four months ago after the US Government intervened in his case, told 9News he was worried about his friend coping in jail.
“Any prison is horrible, but in Vietnam it’s worse,” he said.
Mr Van Kham arrived in Sydney in 1982, after fleeing Vietnam by boat.
In a written statement to 9News, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was providing consular assistance to Mr Van Kham and that the Government of Vietnam was aware of its interest in his case and welfare.