Arrests of Vietnamese environmentalists clash with carbon reduction targets — Radio Free Asia

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The arrest and sentencing of prominent environmentalist Nguy Thi Khanh and other rights activists in Vietnam is at odds with the country’s commitment to cut its massive carbon emissions to tackle climate change, groups have said. defense of human rights and the environment.

Nguy Thi Khanh, an ardent opponent of Vietnam’s dependence on coal power and winner of the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize, was arrested in January for failing to pay a 10% tax on her US$200,000 prize money. equivalent of about 4.65 billion Vietnamese dong. The executive director of the environmental NGO Green Innovation and Development Center was sentenced on June 17 in Hanoi.

Oil Change International (OIC), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders criticized the arrest and demanded Khanh’s release.

“Earlier this month, Nguy Thi Khanh was sentenced to prison on trumped-up tax evasion charges, which have been widely condemned as an attempt to silence Vietnam’s most influential environmental activist,” he said. the OIC said in a statement. statement published on Tuesday. “His arrest is the latest in a series of efforts to crack down on activists in Vietnam.”

Khanh had been active in pointing out the negative effects of coal-fired power plants and calling for the use of clean energy. Vietnam is the ninth largest user of coal in the world, but Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh vowed that the country stop building new coal-fired power plants and work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

In October 2021, Khanh and representatives of other NGOs told Pham that Vietnam needed to revise a national electricity development plan for 2021-2030 to achieve its goals, according to the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. of man. Two years earlier, she had joined a dozen NGOs to sign the “Hanoi Declaration”, demanding that the government stop funding coal-fired power plants.

Khanh is the fourth environmental rights defender to be arrested this year for tax evasion, the Observatory said in a June 24 statement.

On January 11, 2022, Mai Phan Loi, founder and director of the Center for Media in Educating Community (MEC), was sentenced to four years in prison, while Bach Hung Duong, former director of MEC, was sentenced to two years and six-month sentence. Almost two weeks later, Dang Dinh Bach, director of the Law and Policy Research Center for Sustainable Development (LPSD), was sentenced to five years in prison.

Although non-profit organizations are exempt from paying corporate tax in Vietnam, the tax laws relating to NGOs receiving funds from international donors are particularly vague and restrictive, according to the Observatory.

activist organizations and Vietnam Human Rights Committee believe the arrests were prompted by their promotion of the role of civil society in monitoring the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement which came into force in 2021, the Observatory said.

Loi and Bach were both board members of the VNGO-EVFTA Network, a group of seven development and environmental CSOs established in November 2020 to raise awareness of the FTA and its element of civil society, known as of National Advisory Group of Vietnam. After organizations including MEC and LPSD submitted applications to join the advisory group, Loi and Bach were arrested in early July 2021.

The Observatory, a partnership of FIDH and the world organization against torturecalled on the Vietnamese authorities to guarantee the well-being of Khanh and the other activists, and to release them immediately and unconditionally.

“The Observatory strongly condemns the judicial harassment and arbitrary detention of Nguy Thi Khanh, Dang Dinh Bach, Bach Hung Duong and Mai Phan Loi, as it appears to be aimed only at punishing them for their legitimate environmental activities and defense of human rights. the organization’s statement said.

The organization also demanded that the authorities stop harassing activists and human rights defenders in Vietnam, including through the judicial system, and ensure that they can exercise their rights as citizens without fear. of retaliation.

A man works at a coal yard in Hanoi, Vietnam, November 9, 2021. Credit: AFP

“Silencing Those Who Dare to Speak”

EThe charges against the four environmental rights defenders raised questions about the Vietnamese government’s commitment to protecting the environment during the UN Conference of the Parties at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland , in November 2021.

The US presidential special envoy for the climate, John Kerry, and his European Union counterpart, Frans Timmermans, have also called for the release of Nguy Thi Khanh and other climate activists.

A Political report June 26 said those calls risk derailing a deal to get Vietnam off coal, but doing nothing would risk criticism from civil society groups who oppose aid funding climate action in countries that lock down activists.

In April, the Group of Seven, a political forum that includes the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, agreed on a plan to help Vietnam , the ninth coal-consuming country in the world, to meet its carbon emissions targets.

The Politico article quoted Saskia Bricmont, a Belgian member of the European Parliament, as saying that the tax evasion allegations against the activists were “not credible” and were “clearly a deception”.

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry said at a regular press briefing on June 23 that Khanh had been investigated and prosecuted for economic crimes, specifically violating provisions of the administration law. tax, and that she had admitted to evading taxes.

“Some speculation that Nguy Thi Khanh is being criminally treated for his activities and views related to climate change is baseless and does not correspond to the nature of the case,” a spokesperson said.

Responding to the ministry’s statements, a person who previously worked with Vietnam’s Non-Communicable Disease Prevention Alliance – a group to which NGOs affiliated with the convicted activists belonged – said the environmentalists had been wrongfully imprisoned.

“The arrest of environmental activists aims to silence those who dare to speak out and obstruct the authorities,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

“With great contributions to non-profit scientific activities, contributing to the development of environmental, public health and sustainable development policies for the country … the leaders of these organizations should not be considered dangerous to society and be imprisoned” , the person said.

A lawyer familiar with the cases against the activists told RFA that it was unreasonable to charge, convict and imprison activists like Khanh, Bach and Loi.

He cited the case of Center for Research on Sustainable Development Law and Policywhom authorities have accused of evading more than 1.3 billion dong in taxes, saying that the NGO’s grants to implement projects serving the community and the environment should not be subject to corporation tax.

“By law, organizations like LPSD are entitled to zero tax payments,” said the lawyer, who declined to be identified in order to speak freely. “If it’s my prerogative not to pay taxes, then why am I accused of tax evasion?

Translated by FRG Vietnamese. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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