On Thursday, Hoang Thi Minh Hong, an acclaimed climate activist and former World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) employee, was sentenced to three years in prison and fined $4,100 after being convicted for tax evasion.
Her trial lasted only three hours, and access to family and defence counsel were limited throughout her detention.
Moreover, the charges against her may have been politically motivated, according to independent human rights experts.
She becomes the fifth of six environmental human rights defenders arrested since 2021, to be convicted.
“Four other environmental rights advocates have been prosecuted on similar charges and sentenced to up to five years imprisonment, in what seems to be a wider crackdown on environmental rights defenders and against civic space in Viet Nam,” Spokesperson Jeremy Laurence said.
The charges levelled against the sixth person remaining have still not be made public.
‘A chilling effect’
The arrests need to be viewed in the light of Viet Nam’s Just Energy Transition Partnership, OHCHR said.
It is an international collaboration designed to support decarbonisation efforts in developing nations, and Viet Nam opened its Secretariat in July, according to news reports.
The office reiterated that to successfully achieve a just and sustainable transition to green energy, human rights defenders and environmental organizations must have the freedom to participate actively and without hinderances in shaping policies and decision-making.
“These prosecutions and the arbitrary application of restrictive legislation are having a chilling effect on the critically important work of environmental defenders, and that of other human rights defenders in Viet Nam,” Mr. Lawrence said.
Call for unconditional release
He called on the Government to refrain from using criminal charges to curtail the exercise of fundamental freedoms and to release unconditionally all those who have been detained in such cases.
“We also remind the authorities of their obligations under international law to respect the rule of law, the right to a fair trial, and ensuring judicial independence.”