FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 20, 2023
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Human Rights and Climate Justice Organizations Enter Last Week of Month-Long Hunger Strike on Behalf of Environmental Lawyer, Dang Dinh Bach
65 Groups Send Letter to President Obama Calling for Release of Obama Foundation Scholar, Hoang Thi Minh Hong
Five of Vietnam’s most prominent climate leaders have been arrested on charges of “tax evasion,” leading to international outcry and questions about the country’s commitment to a clean energy transition. The country’s vague tax laws are being weaponized to silence environmental defenders and organizations are being shut down.
Environmental justice lawyer, Mr. Dang Dinh Bach (Bach), is currently on a hunger strike to protest his innocence. In solidarity, a broad coalition of human rights and climate justice organizations from around the world are in the last week of a month-long “unprecedented” relay hunger strike calling for Bach’s urgent release. Over 100 organizations have signed a letter pledging to #StandwithBach and nearly 3,000 people have signed a petition to ensure that civil society is free to participate in Vietnam’s clean energy transition without fear of persecution.
The hunger strike will end on June 24, the two-year anniversary of Bach’s arrest. (Highlights of the #StandwithBach social media campaign include tweets by Bill McKibben and Greta Thunberg. The website is in Vietnamese here.)
Meanwhile, the arrests are continuing. On June 1 Hoang Thi Minh Hong, founder of the environmental group CHANGE VN, was detained on similar charges. Hong was an Obama Foundation Scholar in 2018 and listed among the 50 most influential Vietnamese women by Forbes Vietnam in 2019. Today 65 organizations from around the world sent a letter to former President Obama asking for his support in calling for her release, following similar statements by the U.S., U.K., Germany, and the U.N.
“How can Vietnam possibly succeed in a clean energy transition when they are locking up the people who have been spearheading this movement in Vietnam?” asked Maureen Harris, a Senior Advisor with International Rivers. “The country is experiencing record heat waves and globally we need all hands on deck to address the unprecedented challenge of climate change.”
The Vietnamese government has committed to net zero emissions by 2050 and agreed to a $15.5 billion Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) with G7+ countries plus multilateral development banks, such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). However, these arrests have raised concerns about the country’s true commitment.
“I have personally worked with Bach and know how committed he was to protecting the health and rights of vulnerable communities,” said Meena Jagannath, Coordinator of the Global Network of Movement Lawyers at Movement Law Lab who is spearheading the hunger strike. “His attempted silencing by the Vietnamese government is a huge loss for climate activists and should be a huge red flag for those working with Vietnam in its supposed movement away from coal.”
Bach has sent out messages from jail calling for “awareness of environmental justice for all” and “accepting the possibility of his life ending as a non-violent act free from internal and external conflicts”. He also asks that his colleagues around the world continue his efforts to protect communities from pesticides, thermal power plants, coal-fired power plants and the depletion of the Mekong Delta by the hydropower dam system from China and Laos. “The protection of the ecosystem and life of more than 20 million Vietnamese people is not being fully or transparently reported or addressed,” Back told his wife Thao, from prison.
Numerous civil society organizations including Global Witness, Friends of the Earth US, Earthrights International, International Land Coalition, Grassroots Foundation, and International Rivers are supporting the campaign and calling on the Vietnamese Government to immediately release Bach and Hong. The groups are also demanding that funding for the JETP be withheld until these leaders are released.
“The growing criminalization of environmental leaders in Vietnam must end,” said Harris.
Bach was not granted a fair trial. He was not allowed to meet with his lawyer until seven months after he was arrested and his sentence was much harsher than is usual for people accused of tax evasion. United Nations experts suggest that Bach’s prosecution was politically motivated. Recently the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention released an opinion finding Bach’s imprisonment a “violation of international law” and called for his immediate release. The Working Group also stated concerns about a “systemic problem with arbitrary detention” of environmental defenders in Vietnam.
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