Pacific News Minute: Vietnamese Face Prosecution for Seeking Asylum in Australia

May 24, 2016

President Obama's visit to Vietnam this week has focused on economic and strategic issues and on Human rights. Vietnam rigorously suppresses dissent and, late this week,  four Vietnamese go on trial for an act regarded as a right in much of the world...trying to leave the country. We have details from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.

On July 21st of last year, the Australian Navy intercepted a boat carrying 31 adults and 15 children from Vietnam. Under Australia's tough immigration policy, their claims to asylum were assessed at sea, and they were returned to Vietnam four days later. According to members of the group, both Australian immigration officials and Vietnamese government officers promised they would not be arrested or imprisoned. 

In an interview, Tran Thi Lua told Radio Free Asia, "When we arrived at the airport, one policewoman told us that, on behalf of the government of Vietnam, they had pardoned us." Instead, on Thursday, she and three others face up to seven years under a law usually reserved for sex traffickers and people smugglers."We are not traffickers," Tran Thi Lua said, "Our lives here are so difficult. It is so hard to make enough to raise our children. That was why we decided to leave."

Reportedly, their lives became more difficult, after the family's fishing boats were destroyed by Chinese authorities in disputed fishing grounds.

Elaine Pearson, the Director of Human Rights Watch in Australia described the prosecution to the Guardian Australia as a violation of fundamental rights under international law and, she added, "cruel as well as unlawful." 

Tran Thi Lua told Radio Free Asia "I was the one who initiated the trip, so I will get four years. The others will get three."