The Observatory has been informed about the conviction and ongoing arbitrary detention of Ms Hoang Thi Minh Hong, prominent environmental rights defender and founder and director of the now dissolved environmental rights organisation Change VN. Change VN’s mission was to promote and encourage the care and preservation of the environment through education and innovative communications, in order to change habits and inspire community action in Vietnam. From 2013 to 2022, the organisation carried out more than 200 projects and campaigns related to the environment. Change VN was closed down in late 2022, following the arrest of several environmental human rights defenders in 2021 and 2022. In 2023, Ms Hoang founded Choice, a consultancy company on environmental issues.
On September 28, 2023, the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court sentenced Hoang Thi Minh Hong to three years in prison and a fine of 100 million dong (approximately 3,890 Euros) on charges of “tax evasion” (Article 200 of Vietnam’s 2015 Criminal Code) for allegedly evading 6.7 billion dong (approximately 261,000 Euros) in taxes linked to Change VN between 2012 and 2022. Ms Hoang admitted to the charges against her and already repaid the state 3.5 billion dong (approximately 136,000 Euros) in return for leniency. After the trial, Ms Hoang was remanded to T30 Prison, where she has been arbitrarily detained since she was indicted in this case on June 14, 2023.
The Observatory recalls that Hoang Thi Minh Hong was arrested on May 31, 2023, by police officers in Ho Chi Minh City. Her home and the offices of Choice were searched. Ms Hoang was subsequently kept in temporary detention until being transferred on June 14, 2023, from Chí Hòa Prison in Ho Chi Minh City to T30 Prison, a bigger detention centre located two hours away from Ho Chi Minh City. At the time, United Nations (UN) human rights experts raised their concerns over Ms Hoang’s detention, and over the fact that the charges of “tax evasion” appeared “to be politically motivated and targeting Ms. Hoang’s legitimate work on environmental protection”.
The Observatory recalls that this sentence is part of a wider crackdown against land and environmental rights defenders in Vietnam, with authorities using politically-motivated “tax evasion” charges against them in order to curtail legitimate and peaceful activities to protect the environment and combat climate change. Since 2021, in addition to Hoang Thi Minh Hong, five other land and environmental rights defenders have been arbitrarily detained or imprisoned on “tax evasion” charges: Mai Phan Loi and Nguy Thi Khanh, both granted early release in May and September 2023, respectively; Duong Hung Bach served a two-year and-three-months prison sentences imposed on August 11, 2022; Dang Dinh Bach, serving a five-year prison sentence imposed on January 24, 2022 and currently detained under extremely harsh conditions in Prison No. 6 in Nghe An Province ; Hoang Ngoc Giao, arrested in December 2022, and currently detained awaiting trial. A sixth environmental rights defender, Ms. Ngo Thi To Nhien, CEO of the climate change think tank VIET was arrested on September 25, 2023 on charges of “appropriating documents” belonging to the state electricity conglomerate Vietnam Electricity (EVN).
The Observatory expresses its deepest concern about the Vietnamese authorities’ legal harassment, especially through the use of tax-related legal provisions, against environmental activists, to criminalise them.
The Observatory denounces the disproportionate sanction against Hoang Thi Minh Hong, as she has no criminal record and showed her willingness to pay back taxes.
The Observatory strongly condemns the unfair convictions, ongoing arbitrary detention, and judicial harassment of Hoang Thi Minh Hong, Dang Dinh Bach, Hoang Ngoc Giao, and Ngo Thi To Nhien, as they seem to be aimed at punishing them for their legitimate environmental and human rights activities.
The Observatory urges the Vietnamese authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment against the above-mentioned human rights defenders and immediately and unconditionally release them.
How You Can Help
Please write to the authorities of Vietnam, asking them to:
- Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Hoang Thi Minh Hong, Dang Dinh Bach, Hoang Ngoc Giao, Ngo Thi To Nhien, and all other human rights defenders in Vietnam;
- Immediately and unconditionally release Hoang Thi Minh Hong, Dang Dinh Bach, Hoang Ngoc Giao, and Ngo Thi To Nhien, as their detention is arbitrary and aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;
- Quash Hoang Thi Minh Hong’s sentence;
- Put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against Hoang Thi Minh Hong, Dang Dinh Bach, Hoang Ngoc Giao, Ngo Thi To Nhien, and all other human rights defenders in Vietnam, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities and exercise their rights without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.
- Mr. Pham Minh Chinh, Prime Minister of Vietnam; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter : @VNGovtPortal
- Mr. Bui Thanh Son, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam; Email: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @MOFAVietNam / @FMBuiThanhSon
- Ms. Pham Thi Thanh Tra, Minister of Home Affairs of Vietnam; Email: email@example.com
- Mr. Le Thanh Long, Minister of Justice of Vietnam; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
- Mr. Tran Van Son, Minister, Office of the Government (OOG), Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- H.E. Ms. Le Thi Tuyet Mai, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Vietnam to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland; Email: email@example.com
- Embassy of Vietnam in Brussels, Belgium; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Vietnam in your respective country.