Vietnamese climate activist arrested for ‘tax evasion’

Hoang Thi Minh Hong has received international recognition for her environmental activism.
By RFA Vietnamese Service
Vietnamese climate activist arrested for ‘tax evasion’ Vietnamese activist Hoang Thi Minh Hong addresses the Zerokonferansen climate change conference in Oslo, Norway, in November 2019.

UPDATED at 12:42 p.m. EDT on 06-02-2023

Vietnam has arrested well-known environmentalist Hoang Thi Minh Hong for tax evasion, a government official said Thursday in the latest example of the Vietnamese government’s routine use of financial charges to imprison green activists.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ deputy spokesperson Nguyen Duc Thang confirmed on Thursday to reporters that Hong, her husband, and two staff members were arrested the day before.

Hoang Thi Minh Hong is known for her activities in the fight against climate change, including bringing the Earth Hour initiative from Australia to Vietnam. 

She is also famous for being the first Vietnamese woman to set foot in Antarctica in 1997, and in 2019, she was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the 50 most influential women in Vietnam.

 Hong is the founder and executive director of CHANGE – a non-profit organization with the mission of inspiring the community and raising environmental awareness with the aim of protecting nature and wild animals, combating climate change, and promoting sustainable development.

Based on her activism, included her in their 2015  “Climate Heroes” list. Four years later, in 2019, she was voted among the Top 5 Ambassadors of Inspiration at the  2019 WeChoice Awards and was named the Green Warrior of the Year at the Elle Style Awards. 

Hoang Thi Minh Hong is the fifth activist in Vietnam to have been arrested on the charge of tax evasion.

International organizations and foreign governments have criticized Vietnam for targeting and detaining environmental activists and urged the Southeast Asian nation to release those who had been arrested on tax evasion charges.

"Vietnam’s selective use of its vague and flawed tax law to target environmentalists and climate change activists with politically motivated prosecutions is a new, extremely troubling development," Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia Director at New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement. "Leading environmental activist Hoang Thi Minh Hong is the latest victim in this accelerating crackdown which should prompt serious concerns among the US, EU, and other governments who are lining up to provide resources to Vietnam’s climate change programs." 

The arrest and others like it "deeply troubled" the U.N. human rights office, spokesperson Marta Hurtado 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," said Hurtado.  

Hong’s arrest came a week after a U.N. working group of independent human rights experts  called on Vietnam to immediately release a detained climate activist serving a five-year prison term for tax evasion, saying he had been arrested arbitrarily and tried unfairly. 

Lawyer and environmentalist Dang Dinh Bach, 44, who had campaigned to reduce Vietnam’s reliance on coal was arrested June 2021 and then sentenced to five years in jail. 

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Eugene Whong and Paul Eckert.

Update adds quote from UNHCR


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