Locked up abroad: The Aussies the government’s helped free — and those begging for support

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun28,2024
Julian Assange is officially a free man.
The Wikileaks founder’s was brought to a close this week , in exchange for a sentence of time served.
and subsequent release were secured after years of advocacy from his legal team and supporters, including the Australian government.

These are the stories of other Australians the government has played a role in helping to free from overseas prisons in recent years — and those still detained abroad.

Cheng Lei

Journalist Cheng Lei was working as an anchor for China’s state-owned English-language TV channel CGTN , accused of providing state secrets to a foreign country.
In 2022, the dual Chinese-Australian citizen faced a closed trial in Beijing on national security charges.

Successive federal governments lobbied China for her release, with current Prime Minister Anthony Albanese saying her case had been “the subject of ongoing discussions” between officials of both nations.

“Her release follows the completion of judicial processes in China,” he said after .
“This is something that we have advocated for for a long period of time.”
After her release, : breaking an embargo by mere minutes, following a briefing by Chinese officials.

Sean Turnell

Australian academic Sean Turnell was working in Myanmar as an economic policy adviser to when he was arrested following the 2021 military coup.
In September 2022, for violating Myanmar’s official secrets law and immigration law.
Just two months later, as part of a prisoner amnesty to mark Myanmar’s National Victory Day.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the Australian government had worked “tirelessly” to secure Turnell’s release, describing his detention in Myanmar as “unjust”.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert

British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert was arrested at Tehran airport in September 2018 as she tried to leave Iran following an appearance at a conference in the city of Qom.
She was charged with espionage — an allegation she and the Australian government strenuously denied — and .
After serving over two years of her sentence in two of Iran’s most notorious jails, in a complex prisoner swap involving four countries.
A year after she was freed, , its initial tactic of quiet diplomacy was flawed.
She’s since become , calling for the government to do more to secure their release.

Chau Van Kham

was visiting Vietnam in January 2019 when he was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City on terrorism charges.
Chau is a member of the Viet Tan, a US-based group that aims to establish liberal democracy in Vietnam through peaceful and political means. The Vietnamese government considers Viet Tan to be a terrorist organisation.

He was sentenced to 12 years in jail over allegations he had raised money for anti-state activities, joined anti-Vietnam protests in Australia and recruited members for Viet Tan.

A man in a blue collared shirt being led by the arm by a soldier wearing glasses and a green uniform.

Chau Van Kham (left) was arrested in Vietnam in 2019. Source: Getty / Getty Images

Vietnamese police also alleged Chau had entered Vietnam via Cambodia using a fake ID.

Chau was eventually freed in July last year, just a month after Albanese used an official visit to Vietnam to call for his release.

“We wish to thank the Australian government for their care and support whilst in custody, especially the tremendous efforts by various departments in securing his return to Australia and to his family,” Chau’s lawyer said after he was released.

Other Australians still detained overseas

Successive Australian governments have lobbied for the release of , who has spent five years in a Chinese prison.
Yang was arrested in 2019 at Guangzhou airport on suspicion of espionage and . He has denied being a spy for Australia or the US, where he was living before his arrest.
and are among the other Australians who have urged the government to do more to secure their release from overseas prisons.
More than 300 Australians are imprisoned overseas, according to .
It’s not known how many of those the Australian government considers to be arbitrarily detained or is lobbying for the release of.
A DFAT spokesperson told SBS News it would continue to “provide support and consular assistance to Australians in difficulty overseas”.

Additional reporting by Australian Associated Press.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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