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Vietnam holding climate activist incommunicado

HANOI (AFP) – A prominent Vietnamese climate activist detained for alleged tax evasion is being held incommunicado and has no access to a lawyer, rights groups said yesterday.

The founder of now-defunct non-governmental organisation CHANGE Hoang Thi Minh Hong which advocated for action on climate change and wildlife protection is the latest environmentalist to be accused of tax evasion by Vietnam’s authoritarian government.

Hong had been widely recognised for her work, joining the Obama Foundation Scholars programme at Columbia University in New York in 2018.

Yesterday, more than 60 environmental and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Greenpeace UK and Friends of the Earth US, published an open letter urging former United States (US) president Barack Obama to demand her release.

“The government is preparing to prosecute Hong on a false charge of tax evasion,” they wrote.

PHOTO: ENVATO

“She faces up to seven years behind bars and if found guilty, she may be subjected to a prison system that is known for torture and wilful neglect.”

No one has been able to speak to Hong since her arrest on June 1 in Ho Chi Minh City, they said.

The United Nations, the US and Britain have expressed concerns over the arrest.

Hong founded CHANGE in 2013, focussing on mobilising Vietnamese, particularly young people, to take action against pressing environmental issues including climate change, the illegal wildlife trade and pollution.

She was listed by Forbes among the 50 most influential Vietnamese women in 2019.

But she announced last year that CHANGE would close after Vietnam’s government handed down prison terms for tax evasion to four environmental human rights defenders, Nguy Thi Khanh, Mai Phan Loi, Bach Hung Duong and Dang Dinh Bach. Vietnamese authorities have not publicly confirmed Hong’s arrest.

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