Vietnam: Stop the arbitrary arrest and detention of environmental human rights defenders

Today, the ICJ and nine other human rights and environmental organizations express grave concern over the recent arbitrary arrest, detention, and silencing of several environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) speaking out against harmful business operations supported by the government.

The arrest of environmentalist Hoang Thi Minh Hong, her husband and two staff members on 31 May 2023 on trumped-up charges of tax evasion is just another case in the increased targeting of EHRDs in Vietnam. 

Hong–a vocal advocate against environmentally harmful business practices–founded the Center of Hands-on Actions and Networking for Growth and Environment (CHANGE) to work on issues of climate change and environmental conservation. In 1997, she became the first Vietnamese woman to set foot in Antarctica. And in 2019, she was named by Forbes magazine as one of the 50 most influential Vietnamese women. In 2022, however, anticipating the possibility of being prosecuted for her work as a result of increased arrests of her fellow EHRDs, Hong was forced to shut down CHANGE. 

Her detention echoes that of Dang Dinh Bach, who was arrested on 24 June 2021 and sentenced to five years in prison on spurious charges of tax evasion. Bach was well-known for amplifying the voices of marginalised communities suffering the consequences of Vietnam’s coal power plants. Prior to his arrest, he requested to engage with the government to monitor the implementation of the European Union-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement. This Agreement includes commitments around promoting human and labour rights and the environment, which the government has been accused of repeatedly ignoring. Since Bach’s arrest, the global community has emerged in solidarity with him, supporting him when he declared that he will go on a hunger strike to his death in defence of his innocence on 24 June 2023. 

This brings the total to five cases against prominent EHRDs in the past two years, the others being Nguy Thi Khanh, Mai Phan Loi, and Bach Hung Duong

This increase in the number of alleged tax evasion cases against EHRDs under Article 200 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code 2015 takes place in the context of possible investment of USD 15.5 billion into Vietnam’s economy to transition to renewable energy as part of the Just Energy Transition Partnerships, which aims to support developing countries to move towards clean energy.

The recent attacks against EHRDs in Vietnam reaffirms the closure of civic space in the country. Judicial harassment has continued to be deployed against activists, independent journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, and bloggers. They are arbitrarily arrested on various issues using made-up charges under the draconian 2015 Criminal Code, including Article 331 (abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state), Article 117 (prohibition of distribution of materials deemed as anti-state), and article 318 (criminalisation of those causing public disorder). The continuous closure of civic and democratic space in Vietnam is contrary to the country’s international legal obligations and commitments undertaken as a member of UN Human Right Council 2023-2025.

As we mark the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, we urge the Government of Vietnam to immediately release and drop all charges against the detained EHRDs and stop the arbitrary arrest of human rights defenders exercising their fundamental freedoms. 

Furthermore, we call on the government to meaningfully engage with civil society to ensure that the transition towards clean energy is participative and inclusive. 

Lastly, we remind the government, as a current member of the UN Human Rights Council, of both its political commitments and  legal obligations to ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These include, among others, article 9 and 19 which guarantees freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention and freedom of expression for all people under their jurisdiction.


  1. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  2. Community Resource Centre (CRC)
  3. Defend the Defenders
  4. EarthRights International
  5. Front Line Defenders
  6. Asia Pacific Network of Environment Defenders (APNED)
  7. Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines Inc. (CEC)
  8. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  9. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  10. People in Need

Photo credit: On the left is Dang Dinh Bach (photo from OMCT), and on the right is Hoang Thi Minh Hong (photo from CHANGE)

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