Vietnam Arrests Another Environmental Activist on “Tax Evasion” Charges

Vietnam Arrests Another Environmental Activist on “Tax Evasion” Charges

Vietnam arrests the fifth environmental activist, Hoang Thi Minh Hong, on “tax evasion” charges

The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry on June 1 confirmed that the police in Ho Chi Minh City had arrested Hoang Thi Minh Hong, an influential environmental activist and founder of CHANGE, an environment-oriented organization fighting climate change and for the protection of wild animals. Hong was arrested on “tax evasion” charges. She was reportedly arrested the day before along with her husband and two former staff members of CHANGE. Nam Hoang, Hong’s husband, told The Guardian they were all released except for his wife.

According to a news report from Vietnam’s State-run media, Foreign Ministry Deputy Spokesperson Nguyen Duc Thang did not clearly state whether or not Hong’s detention was related to her environmental advocacy at CHANGE. Thang only said that the country “has always strongly affirmed its commitment to environmental protection, climate change response, green and sustainable development,” but “those who violate the law will be prosecuted in accordance with the law.”

Hong’s arrest on “tax evasion” charges were the latest example of Hanoi’s crackdown on civil society. Previously, the regime used the same allegations to imprison four other leaders from different nonprofit environmental organizations, including Nguy Thi Khanh, winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018, and Dang Dinh Bach, a community lawyer. Khanh was freed in May, earlier than her expected release date. Many critics condemned these charges as politically motivated.

The director of CHANGE, who was listed by Forbes Vietnam among the 50 most influential Vietnamese women in 2019, announced that she would close down the organization after more than 10 years of operation last October following the Vietnamese government’s increasing suppression of civil society. The fear of suppression has engulfed similar civil society groups. The LIN Center for Community Development, another well-known Vietnamese nonprofit organization, declared it ceased operations starting January 1, 2023, after 13 years of operation.

Vietnam is set to finalize a $15.5 billion climate funding from industrialized countries and investors to eliminate or reduce its carbon emissions by mid-century. A coalition of 36 international civil society groups has called on the funders of this climate program, known as the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), to allow Vietnamese activists to participate in designing and monitoring the implementation of the project.

The United States and the United Nations have criticized Hanoi for the arrest of Hoang Thi Minh Hong.

Department of State spokesman Matthew Miller in a statement on June 2 urged Vietnam to “respect the rights of those detained and to respect and protect the freedoms of expression and association for all Vietnamese people.” Meanwhile, Marta Hurtado, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “The chilling effect of such cases brought under tax laws is palpable among civil society in Vietnam, and risks stifling debate on issues of importance to society as a whole.”

According to a recent report from The 88 Project, a free speech and human rights advocate, Vietnam has weaponized its legal provisions to snuff out environmental activism. Vietnam’s Security Investigation Agency, a police department assigned to investigate alleged “tax evasion” cases, only has the authority to investigate “national security crimes, war crimes, and serious crimes,” which does not include tax evasion.

The report further states that this agency can only investigate other crimes if the minister of public security authorizes an exception, which means that “it is highly likely that Minister of Public Security To Lam initiated these proceedings himself.”

Vietnam’s 15th National Assembly Initiates Its Fifth Meeting With A Focus On Socioeconomic Issues

Socioeconomic issues remain at the forefront at the fifth meeting of Vietnam’s 15th National Assembly, which began on May 22 in Hanoi. The panel reportedly consists of two working sessions. The first session will occur between May 22 and June 10; the second is expected between June 19 and June 23. Vietnam’s National Assembly chairperson, Vuong Dinh Hue, will conduct the meeting.

According to State-run media, Vietnam’s lawmakers will review, amend, and pass eight legal proposals and three resolutions as part of the National Assembly’s meeting agenda. They include amendments to the Law on People’s Public Security Force and the Law on Emigration and Immigration for Vietnamese citizens and foreign nationals. Vietnam’s public security minister, To Lam, submitted the suggested amendments to these laws.

State-run news outlet VietnamPlus wrote that these draft amendments “aim to institutionalize the Party’s guidelines and policies, remove bottlenecks, and guarantee the legal system’s consistency to meet the requirements for safeguarding national security and social order and safety.”

On May 31, Vietnam’s National Assembly reportedly spent the entire day discussing and reviewing the country’s socioeconomic development plan and the national budget for 2022 and the beginning of 2023. The discussions took place as Vietnam’s GDP increased by just 3.32% in the first quarter of this year, lower than the forecasted figure, while the average CPI rose 3.84 percent in the first four months of 2023. They also considered other significant problems, including the financial difficulties faced by small and medium enterprises, stagnant administrative reforms, and the bottlenecks in the corporate bond and real estate markets regarding liquidity and capital flows.

Dozens Of Human Rights Organizations Push Vietnam To Release Environmental Leader Dang Dinh Bach

More than 80 international organizations fighting for human rights and climate justice published a public letter on May 24 urging Hanoi to immediately release Vietnamese environmental leader Dang Dinh Bach, who is serving a five-year sentence on alleged “tax evasion” charges. The letter said that the Vietnamese government used trumped-up prosecutions to charge Bach following his advocacy encouraging Vietnam to move away from coal.

“The Vietnamese government itself has committed to net zero emissions by 2050 and accepted a $15.5 billion deal to support a just transition to clean energy. But this cannot succeed with climate leaders like Bach in jail,” the letter said.

A petition calling for the release of Dang Dinh Bach, posted on May 23, gained nearly 2,500 signatures as of June 1. The petition, part of the Stand With Bach, a campaign organized to protest the imprisonment of Bach and Vietnam’s retaliation against environmental civil society groups, called on the U.S. government, a key supporter of Vietnam’s clean energy transition, to raise this issue with Hanoi and pressure it to set him free.

Wife Of Vietnamese Youtube User Begins Serving Her Sentence On “Abusing Democratic Freedoms”

Vu Thi Kim Hoang, the wife of Nguyen Thai Hung, a Vietnamese Youtube user, will serve her two-and-a-half-year prison sentence starting on June 1. She was found guilty of "abusing democratic freedoms" under Article 331 of the Penal Code, according to her interview with VOA Vietnamese on May 30. Last November, a court in Dong Nai sentenced Hung, 53, to four years and Hoang, 45, to two and a half years in prison.  

Nguyen Thai Hung owned a Youtube channel called “Nói bằng thực TV” (Telling by Truth Television), where he often live-streamed and hosted talk shows discussing social and economic issues in Vietnam. The channel was reportedly established in 2020, gaining nearly 40,000 subscribers. The couple was arrested in January 2021 under Article 331, although Hoang did not directly participate in the live streaming. She was later released on bail.  

Hoang publicly announced on her personal Facebook page, Kim Vu, on May 30 that she would be sent to the Tan Phu Detention Center in Dong Nai Province on June 1. Hoang told VOA News that she would be transferred to the B5 Camp of Dong Nai Provincial Prison. “[I] always hope that Vietnam will have freedom of speech,” she added. “That's the priority my husband and I hope for.”

Vietnamese Suspects Died In Police Stations, Raising Doubts About Police Brutality

Nguyen Tan Duong, 26, a suspect detained by Binh Phuoc Provincial Police investigating his alleged “stealing electrical wires,” died in police custody only a few hours after his detention on May 25. Nguyen Thi Thanh Quyen, Duong’s wife, only learned about her husband’s death when she went to the Bu Dang District Medical Center, Binh Phuoc Province, and asked its staff about the whereabouts of her husband.

The medical staff initially claimed they did not have any information regarding Duong. Still, it later said that Duong was taken to the center at around 10 a.m., adding that he was dead on arrival. His body is being kept at the center's morgue, they added. The police rejected Quyen and her mother-in-law’s demand to see Duong's body while requiring them to bring relevant documents before allowing them access to the morgue.

Quyen told Radio Free Asia (RFA) in an interview that the police remained silent when she asked them about the reasons behind her husband’s detention and his death.

Vietnam’s State-owned media quoted police sources as saying that Duong “showed signs of tiredness” while being interrogated by the police. He was taken to Bu Dang District Medical Center for examination but died afterwards. The Binh Phuoc Provincial Police said they later asked the Ho Chi Minh City Forensic Center to investigate the cause of Duong’s death. According to the preliminary results, Duong died from pulmonary edema. Meanwhile, the police reportedly summoned social media users who posted on social networks that “Duong was beaten to death by the police” for questioning.

On May 31, a Hmong woman in Muong Lan Commune, Sop Cop District, Son La Province, was found hung in an office of the local police station. According to the commune officials, when they came to the office of the Commune People's Committee, they discovered that T.T.A., the Hmong woman whose name was written only in initials,  hung herself in the office of the Muong Lan Commune Police.

The leader of Sop Cop District said the police detained two suspected drug addicts in Muong Lan Commune, including T.T.A, forcing them to undergo compulsory drug rehabilitation. The other suspect was taken to the Sop Cop District Police Station, while T.T.A., due to her old age, was kept in the detention center of the Muong Lan Commune Police.

Police brutality is pervasive in Vietnam, with numerous cases of criminal suspects found dead in police custody while awaiting investigation. Vietnam’s lack of press freedom and the public security ministry’s exclusive role in investigating such cases explain why the Vietnamese police often enjoy complete impunity. The police usually claim that those suspiciously found dead in police stations have “committed suicide” or “fallen to death.”

Vietnam Postpones Civil Trial Of Vietnamese Woman Who Is Suing The Authorities For Coercing Her To Be Tested For Covid-19

A Vietnamese court in Binh Duong Province on May 31 postponed the civil trial where Hoang Thi Phuong Lan, a local resident, sued Binh Duong Provincial authorities. Previously, Lan, a yoga teacher, sued the officials of Binh Duong for violating her rights and dignity by coercing her to take COVID-19 tests against her will.

In September 2021, the police and officials of Vinh Phu Ward, Binh Duong Province, broke into Lan’s house and violently escorted her to a virus testing venue. However, Lan said she had already tested negative for the virus at home. She also got fined for “refusing to take virus tests per the requests of responsible authorities.”

The authorities later apologized to Lan, citing the “sense of urgency” in combating COVID-19 as a justification for their aggressive actions. But the yoga teacher declined their apologies, adding that she would file a lawsuit against them.

According to the Binh Duong Provincial People's Court, they had scheduled the trial for May 31. However, the plaintiff, Lan, applied for an adjournment for personal reasons. The Binh Duong court announced that the hearing would reopen in about 15 days.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese To Visit Vietnam In June To Mark Bilateral Diplomatic Relations

According to a media release from the office of the prime minister of Australia on May 30, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will travel to Vietnam from June 3 to 4 to “mark 50 years of diplomatic relations” between the two countries. Albanese will first visit Singapore to deliver the keynote address at the 20th Shangri-La Dialogue.

The release states that Albanese will hold meetings with senior Vietnamese officials and promote Australian business and education ties. The two countries will also discuss boosting cooperation on trade, investment, and education while expanding collaboration on climate, energy, and the environment. This is the first visit of Anthony Albanese to both Vietnam and Singapore, the official statement notes.

It’s unclear whether or not the issue of Vietnam’s abysmal human rights situation and its recent crackdown on environmental leaders will be included in the working agenda of Albanese during his official visit to Hanoi.

Last month, Hanoi requested Canberra halt the circulation of commemorative coins issued to mark the end of Australian military involvement in the Vietnam War. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Pham Thu Hang argued that the coin, which bears the national flag of the defeated South Vietnamese government, was “inappropriate” and that she hoped such an incident would not happen again.

Outlawed church group makes a Comeback in Vietnam


“The World Mission Society of Church of God, also known as Church of God the Mother, has made a comeback with 16 service locations, mostly in Thanh Hoa city, and around 500 followers, according to information on the provincial police's website.

The group’s members range in age from 18 to 50 years old, and most are students and housewives, authorities said. They often promote their religion by approaching people at coffee shops, parks and business workshops, especially events about multilevel marketing models.

Freedom of religion is technically enshrined in Vietnam’s constitution, but the charter also allows authorities to override rights, including religious freedom, for purposes of national security, social order, social morality and community well-being.”

No Joking Allowed in Vietnam

Human Rights Watch:

“Minister To Lam got his revenge by muzzling a critic, but that won’t salvage his reputation. Vietnamese only need to be reminded of his lavishing thousands of dollars on a steak while ordinary people struggled amidst the Covid-19 economic downturn and rampant inflation.

The cruel and outrageous sentence against Bui Tuan Lam and his wife’s mistreatment will only amplify the Vietnamese government’s unrestrained abuses.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Shangri-La 2023: ASEAN rallies for regional stability

Asia Times/ Michael Vatikiotis/ June 1

“Vietnam is said to be a textbook example of successful hedging, balancing relations with China and the US as well as with Russia, without angering any country. Even as the US is eager to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership with Hanoi, Vietnamese leaders still have a delicate way of handling it while not making its giant neighbor China uncomfortable.

An interesting detail to supplement this point of view is that Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh affirmed that he “did not choose sides and only chose peace and justice” during his brief meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Japan recently.

This also would have been noted by Dmitry Medvedev, vice-chairman of the Russian Security Council during his visit from May 22-23 to Hanoi shortly afterward.”

Vietnam pressures TikTok to censor more content or face a ban

Rest Of World/ Lam Le/ May 24

“TikTok is the only global social media company to have an office in Vietnam — the factor that has opened it up to a probe. Others, like Meta and Google, have resisted putting employees on the ground due to so-called hostage-taking laws, meaning that the government could intimidate, threaten, or detain local staff if the company refuses to take orders. Vietnam’s cybersecurity law requires social media platforms to open local offices and store data of Vietnamese users within the country.

TikTok would ultimately be more likely to comply with the government’s demands than Meta or Google, according to Jufang Wang, who studies digital technologies as deputy director of think tank Oxford Global Society. Its physical office is evidence that it values the Vietnam market, and its content moderation is already more localized than that of other social media platforms, according to Wang’s own research.”

Can Vietnam Benefit from the Global Chip Rush?

Fulcrum/ Nguyen Khac Giang/ May 23

“Several key areas need government improvement. Despite having a robust pool of technology talent, particularly in software development and IT services, Vietnam’s education and training system in technology-related fields lags in producing the needed human resources. For instance, Vietnam’s biggest training hub for semiconductor engineers, Vietnam National University in Hanoi, only produces around 500 specialised graduates per year. This is far from meeting the demands of the burgeoning industry. As suggested by Nguyen Anh Thi, the director of Saigon Hi-Tech Park, Vietnam’s largest high-tech investment zone, the required skilled workforce may indeed be in the tens of thousands annually.”

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