A court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced environmental activist Hoang Thi Minh Hong to three years in prison on Thursday for tax evasion at the head of her environmental organization, state media reported.
According to the indictment, between 2012 and 2022, the Change VN organization, founded by Hong in 2013, generated income of 69 billion dong (2.69 million euros) that it did not declare, for which it must pay the Vietnamese treasury the 261,100 euros that they accuse him of defrauding and a fine of another 3,800 euros, indicated the Vietnamese news agency. Hong pleaded guilty, something many defendants do to receive a lesser punishment, and he has already paid 3.5 billion dong (136,000 euros) to the Vietnamese state.
The activist, 51, was arrested on May 30 for tax evasion, a crime that has served Vietnamese authorities to persecute other prominent environmental activists in recent years.
The arrest of Hong, an activist with a lot of presence in the international media, occurred a few months after the sudden closure last October of her organization, which denounced problems linked to climate change, environmental pollution and endangered species.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Asia, denounced that Vietnamese authorities "are using a vaguely worded tax law as a weapon to punish environmental leaders who the Communist Party considers a threat to its power." . "The government should stop punishing activists for advocating for action on climate change and green policies and drop the charges against Hoang Thi Minh Hong," he added.
Hong received a scholarship from the Obama Foundation at Columbia University in 2018 and former United States President Barack Obama himself cited her on the social network Twitter as an activist who "mobilized a youth-led movement to create a greener world." . In a photo published in a tweet also by the former US president, Obama is seen with Hong (in the center, wearing a yellow dress).
The human rights organization Project 88 denounced in a report published last April that the Vietnamese Government applies criminal law arbitrarily to sentence environmental activists to prison terms.
In the last two years, the Police have arrested five of Vietnam's most prominent environmental activists, all of them accused of committing tax evasion crimes. Two of them, Mai Phan Loi and Nguy Thi Khanh, have been released from prison this year, by surprise and without any official explanation, a few months before completing their prison sentences.
At least 189 activists are arbitrarily imprisoned in Vietnam, according to the organization Project 88.