VIETNAM International NGOs call for the release of a Vietnamese environmentalist

A year after his sentence for “tax evasion”, environmental groups want the G7, with which Vietnam signed a decarbonization agreement, to pressure them to release the activist Dang Dinh Bach. In 2022, Nguy Thi Khanh, who had collaborated with local authorities to promote ecological transition, had also been detained.

Hanoi () – A group of international NGOs has called on the G7 countries to pressure the Vietnamese government to release a local environmentalist sentenced to five years in prison for “tax evasion”. They did it in one joint declaration issued on the occasion of the first anniversary of the imprisonment of Dang Dinh Bach, who had criticized the decarbonization plans proposed by the authorities. The signatories argue that industrialized countries cannot finance clean energy development in Vietnam while turning a blind eye to the treatment of environmentalists.

In 2021, almost half of the energy produced in Vietnam came from coal-fired power plants, and according to analysts, as the economy grows, energy needs will increase. In 2000, the country produced just 0.65 metric tons of CO2, a figure that rose to 3.51 in 2019. Late last year, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Japan, and other countries signed a agreement to help the Southeast Asian nation, led by the Communist Party, achieve the goal of zero emissions by 2050. Called the Just Energy Transition Partnership, the agreement provides for financing of up to 15.5 billion dollars in the next three to five years, which will go towards the ecological transition.

However, according to the monitoring group 88Project, at least 208 activists were in prison last year. International observers argue that the Vietnamese government is not so much opposed to environmentalism – also taking into account recent investments in solar energy production – as excessive criticism from civil society. The Communist Party fears that they could undermine economic development plans and encourage greater political participation from below.

Bach is a lawyer and director of the NGO Center for Legal Studies and Policy for Sustainable Development. In addition to a five-year prison term, he was sentenced to pay a fine of almost 1.4 billion dong ($60,000) for receiving foreign funding, although Vietnam’s non-governmental organizations are exempt from paying corporate taxes.

Last year, activist Nguy Thi Khanh was also arrested and sentenced to two years in prison for failing to pay taxes. She was after receiving the $200,000 Goldman Prize, an award given annually to six environmental activists from around the world. Khanh, who grew up in a northern Vietnamese village near a coal-fired power plant, had founded a network of environmental NGOs and worked with local authorities to reduce the country’s reliance on coal.

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