Seeing this as a suppression of free speech, the US and United Nations have criticized the detention of a prominent climate activist by the Vietnamese government. On Wednesday, Hoang Thi Minh Hong, founder of the NGO Change, was taken into custody in Ho Chi Minh City. Calling on Vietnam to respect the human rights of those detained, the US Department of State expressed concern over the detention of Hoang Thi Minh Hong. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Hong was arrested while others were released.
In the past two years, Hoang Thi Minh Hong has been the fifth environmental human rights defender arrested in Vietnam for alleged tax evasion. Vietnamese police have accused prominent environmental activist Hoang Thi Minh Hong of tax evasion, a charge criticized as politically motivated.
Nam Hoang, the husband of Hong, and a former staff member of Change were also detained but later released. Human Rights Watch leader Phil Robertson describes Vietnam’s selective use of tax law to target environmentalists as a troubling development. The arrest of Hong follows the recent prosecution and imprisonment of four other environmental activists in Vietnam.
In order to help reduce its carbon footprint, Vietnam secured funding through the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) with the EU, UK, and US. Founded in 2013, Change aimed to mobilize Vietnamese citizens, especially young people, to take action against climate change and environmental issues.
Contributing to ocean plastic pollution, Vietnam ranks among the top 5 nations. After the arrests of other human rights defenders on similar charges of tax evasion, Hong closed down Change last year. The US and the United Nations both view these detentions as part of a broader trend of suppressing free speech in Vietnam.
The foreign ministry of Vietnam emphasizes the need for NGOs to follow the law while guaranteeing their normal operation. Human Rights Watch activist Phil Robertson accuses Vietnam of using vague and flawed tax laws to target environmentalists for politically motivated prosecutions. Previously recognized as a climate hero, Hong is among the 50 most influential Vietnamese women. Hong is one of the 50 most influential Vietnamese women listed by Forbes Vietnam in 2019. Vietnam still heavily relies on coal for its energy needs, despite commitments to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Many prominent environmentalists, like Deng Dinh Bach, languish in Vietnamese prisons on tax evasion charges. After being sentenced to five years in jail, Dang Bing Bach plans to begin a hunger strike to demand his release. The Human Rights Council of the UN expressed deep concern over the detention of environmental activists in Vietnam. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the use of tax laws to target activists in Vietnam has a chilling effect on civil society and stifles important debates.
Needing to protect freedom of expression and association, Hong’s case highlights the risks faced by environmental activists in Vietnam.
The crackdown on environmental activists in Vietnam should be a cause for concern for the international community, including the US, EU, and other governments. Protection of the environment and efforts to combat climate change require the involvement of civil society and respect for human rights. Upholding the rights of individuals and organizations engaged in environmental protection and climate action is crucial for Vietnam.