(Bloomberg) -- Vietnam’s detention of a prominent environmentalist and the staff of the non-profit she founded “are part of a concerning pattern of arrests of local environmental and civil society advocates” in the Communist country, the US State Department said in a statement.
Hoang Thi Minh Hong’s detention on charges of tax evasion has also “deeply troubled” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, spokesperson Marta Hurtado said in a statement.
Hong, 51, a former Obama Foundation Scholar, founded CHANGE, a Vietnamese NGO focused on endangered wildlife, climate change and reducing pollution that closed in October, according to an emailed statement from Human Rights Watch. Hong’s detention follows the jailing of four other environmental activists under similar circumstances, it said.
The State Department last year criticized Vietnam’s government for the jailing of environmentalists on charges of tax evasion.
“In Vietnam, individuals, associations and organizations, NGOs are guaranteed their normal operations in accordance with regulations and must comply with and take responsibility before the law for their activities,” Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy spokesperson Nguyen Duc Thang said at a June 1 briefing in Hanoi when asked about the arrests. “Like in other nations in the world, those who violate the law will be handled accordingly.”
Thang did not address the detentions directly.
“We call on Vietnam to respect the rights of those detained and to respect and protect the freedoms of expression and association for all Vietnamese people,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in the June 2 statement.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to an email request for comment Saturday morning.
Vietnam last year entered into a $15.5 billion partnership with funders led by the European Union and the UK to help finance its transition away from coal. Environmental groups raised concerns about the deal over the jailing of activists.
“We are also deeply concerned about the broader trend of arrests, arbitrary detention, and disproportionate sentencing of journalists, bloggers, Facebook users, social activists, land rights defenders, human rights defenders and leaders of civil society organizations” in Vietnam, Hurtado said.
The UN High Commissioner, which said at least 20 such individuals have been arrested so far this year, called on the government to release those “arbitrarily detained” and protect environmental and human rights advocates, Hurtado said.
--With assistance from Nguyen Xuan Quynh.
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