Press briefing notes Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Viet Nam – Detention of environmental human rights defender Hoang Thi Minh Hong
02 June 2023
We are deeply troubled by the detention of prominent environmental human rights defender Hoang Thi Minh Hong in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam, on Wednesday this week. According to credible sources, Hoang and several colleagues were detained for questioning by the Police Division for Economic Crimes on Wednesday. While others were subsequently released and asked to return to the police station for further questioning, she was presented with a temporary detention order with charges of tax evasion.
Hoang is the fifth prominent environmental human rights defenders arrested in Viet Nam for alleged tax evasion in the last two years. Dang Dinh Bach, arrested last year on the same charge, is currently serving a five-year prison sentence.
Following the arrests of other human rights defenders, Hoang had closed her environmental organization, CHANGE VN, saying that she feared she would also be prosecuted. 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.
Arrests of environmental human rights defenders are taking place amid Viet Nam’s stated commitments to a just and sustainable energy transition. To achieve this goal, human rights defenders and environmental organizations must be able to participate freely and actively in shaping climate and environmental policies and decision-making.
We are also deeply concerned about the broader trend of arrests, arbitrary detention, and disproportionate sentencing of journalists, bloggers, Facebook users, social activists, land rights defenders, human rights defenders and leaders of civil society organizations. We have reports that at least 20 such individuals have been arrested so far this year, although the real figure may be higher. Over the past few years, UN human rights mechanisms have addressed the application of restrictive legislation, including vague anti-State propaganda charges against human rights defenders or victims, including those who engage with the UN.
There are also serious concerns about the independence of the judiciary, the right to fair trial, standards of treatment in detention, and the severity of sentences imposed on those prosecuted for exercising their fundamental rights, in particular the freedom of expression.
We call on the Government of Viet Nam to review relevant laws to ensure their full compliance with international human rights standards.
We also urge the authorities to promptly release all those arbitrarily detained, and to ensure that environmental advocates and other human rights defenders are protected and can participate meaningfully in decision-making, without being subjected to intimidation or legal harassment. This is a call that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has particularly emphasized to all States, as we mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this year.
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