In a strong show of unity, ten regional and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are voicing grave concern over Vietnam’s recent pattern of arbitrary arrests and detentions of environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs), specifically targeting those outspoken about harmful business operations backed by the Vietnamese government.
Hoang Thi Minh Hong, a prominent environmentalist, and three others were arrested on May 31, 2023, on what the NGOs claim are trumped-up charges of tax evasion.
Hong, a notable critic of environmentally detrimental business practices and founder of the now-defunct Center of Hands-on Actions and Networking for Growth and Environment (CHANGE), has been in the crosshairs of Vietnamese authorities due to her advocacy. Her arrest marks a worrying increase in the targeting of EHRDs.
The year before her arrest, Hong was forced to close CHANGE, anticipating potential prosecution due to the growing number of arrests of fellow EHRDs.
The plight of Dang Dinh Bach, a vocal opponent of Vietnam’s coal power plants, who was arrested on June 24, 2021, on similar charges and is now serving a five-year prison sentence, served as a foreboding indication of what was to come.
Under Article 200 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code 2015, these cases add to the surge of tax evasion allegations against EHRDs, coinciding with the possible investment of $15.5 billion into Vietnam’s economy for a transition to renewable energy under the Just Energy Transition Partnerships. The NGOs see this trend as a blatant attempt to stifle dissent and criticism.
The organisations emphasize that the continuous arrests and judicial harassment of activists, independent journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, and bloggers, often under charges from Vietnam’s 2015 Criminal Code, have led to a significant shrinkage of civic space in Vietnam.
This is starkly contrary to the country’s international legal obligations and commitments undertaken as a member of the UN Human Rights Council for the period 2023-2025.
In light of the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the undersigned NGOs are urging the Government of Vietnam to immediately release all detained EHRDs and drop all charges.
They are calling for an end to the arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders who are exercising their fundamental freedoms.
In addition, they are appealing to the Vietnamese government to engage constructively with civil society to ensure that the transition towards clean energy is participatory and inclusive.
Lastly, they are reminding the Vietnamese government of its responsibilities as a member of the UN Human Rights Council.
This includes the obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, particularly article 9 and 19, guaranteeing freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention and freedom of expression for all people under its jurisdiction.
The signatories of the joint statement
- Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
- Community Resource Centre (CRC)
- Defend the Defenders
- EarthRights International
- Front Line Defenders
- Asia Pacific Network of Environment Defenders (APNED)
- Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines Inc. (CEC)
- CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
- International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
- People in Need