It did not take long for a court in Ho Chi Minh City to sentence prominent Vietnamese environmental activist Hoang Thi Minh Hong to three years in prison. After a brief one-day trial, the founder of the now shuttered NGO Change VN, which focused on the dangers of pollution, wild-life trafficking and climate change, is the fifth environmental campaigner to be sentenced to prison in Vietnam in the last two years.
Hong was charged with tax evasion. She had closed Change VN in October of 2022, after the Government of Vietnam arrested other environmental activists and charged them with the same crime. When Hong was arrested in May, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said, “The chilling effect of such cases brought under tax laws is palpable among civil society in Viet Nam, and risks stifling debate on issues of importance to society as a whole.”
“The United States is deeply concerned by the conviction and sentencing of prominent environmental activist and NGO leader Hoang Thi Minh Hong to three years’ imprisonment,” said State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller in a statement. “We call on the Vietnamese government to ensure its tax law is enforced in a transparent, impartial manner that ensures nongovernmental organizations can operate without fear of undue targeting or prosecution.”
Environmentalists are not the only members of Vietnam’s civil society being targeted by the government. The State Department’s most recent human rights report on Vietnam estimates that there are over 170 imprisoned political prisoners and activists in Vietnam, including journalists, academics, members of religious communities, as well as individual citizens exercising “internationally recognized human rights, such as the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.”
State Department Spokesperson Miller said, “We reiterate our call on Vietnam to release all those unjustly detained and to respect the right of freedoms of expression and association for all persons in Vietnam. ... We further urge Vietnam to ensure its actions are consistent with the human rights provisions of Vietnam’s constitution and its international commitments, including to consult with non-government stakeholders as part of the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP).
“NGO leaders like Hoang Thi Minh Hong,” said Spokesperson Miller, “play a vital role in tackling global challenges, proposing sustainable solutions in the global fight against the climate crisis, and combating wildlife and timber trafficking.”