UN expert accuses Vietnam of targeting human rights defenders


 AFP | November 16, 2023

An independent UN expert on Wednesday accused Vietnam of targeting human rights defenders, after a spate of high-profile arrests and convictions.

Five environmentalists have been jailed for tax evasion in the communist country since last year, in what activists see as a campaign to silence them.

Surya Deva, the UN special rapporteur on the right to development, said Vietnam’s authoritarian government was using the law “selectively to target certain human rights defenders, climate activists or environmental human rights defenders”.

Among the five people jailed was Hoang Thi Minh Hong, a prominent climate activist who founded the NGO CHANGE to mobilise citizens to take action on pressing environmental issues including the illegal wildlife trade and pollution.

Another was Nguy Thi Khanh, who challenged Hanoi’s plans to increase coal power to fuel economic development. She was released earlier this year.

Ngo Thi To Nhien, director of an independent energy policy think tank and a leading Vietnamese energy expert, was also arrested. She was accused of appropriating documents from a state-owned power firm.

Deva said that civil society should be given the space to voice their grievances, and that this would ultimately make Vietnam a better society.

“I believe that within the existing political system of Vietnam, there is a scope to tolerate different views and dissent, because not everyone who is having a different view is trying to overthrow the party or the state,” he told reporters in Hanoi.

Hong’s conviction came less than a year after a group of donors including the United States and European Union pledged to mobilise $15.5 billion in funding as part of a Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) to help Vietnam switch to clean energy faster.

Nhien’s think tank was working on JETP implementation.

In a letter to Deva ahead of his visit, The 88 Project, which advocates for freedom of expression in Vietnam, said the arrests “call into question Vietnam’s commitment to sustainable development in the country”.

“Of the energy policy and environmental activists who have been arrested and imprisoned, many have worked previously with the government and were working on issues that are official government policy priorities,” the group said.



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