Viet Nam: detention and criminal charge against environmental WHRD Hoang Thi Minh Hong for alleged tax evasion (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Viet Nam on 28 July 2023. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. Regrettably, the Government did not reply within this time frame. If a reply is received it will be posted on the UN Special Procedures communications database.

Since the communication was sent, Hoang Thi Minh Hong’s trial took place at the Ho Chi Minh City’s Peoples Court on 28 September 2023. She was sentenced to three years in prison and a 100-million VND fine.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication

BACKGROUND

Topic: detention and criminal charge against environmental human rights defender Hoang Thi Minh Hong for alleged tax evasion

Ms. Hoàng Thị Minh Hồng is a woman environmental human rights defender in Viet Nam. She is the founder and director of the now dissolved environmental rights organisation CHANGE VN, based in Ho Chi Minh City. CHANGE VN’s mission was to promote and encourage the care and preservation of the environment through education and innovative communications that change habits and inspire community action in Viet Nam. The organisation operated in Viet Nam between 2013 and 2022, during which it spearheaded more than 200 projects and campaigns related to the environment. Ms. Hoang Thi Minh Hong decided to close CHANGE VN in late 2022, partially due to the arrest of several environmental human rights defenders in 2021 and 2022.

Ms. Hoang Thi Minh Hong previously worked for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) where she carried out many environmental and wildlife projects. In 2015, Climate Heroes listed Ms. Hoang as a hero for her tireless work to protect the environment, and in 2018 she received a grant from the first Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University. In 2019, she was listed among the 50 most influential Vietnamese women by Forbes Vietnam. In 2023, Ms. Hoang started a consultancy company on environmental issues called CHOICE.

ALLEGATIONS

The case of Ms. Hoang Thi Minh Hong:

On 31 May 2023, in the morning, Ms. Hoang Thi Minh Hong was detained by the police in Ho Chi Minh City on tax evasion charges. The arrest took place as she was parking her car outside a building where she was attending a work- related event.

At approximately 9 a.m., the police took her to her home where a search warrant was presented. The search, during which police officers confiscated some documents, lasted until 11 a.m. Then, Ms. Hoang Thi Minh Hong and her husband were taken to the offices of CHOICE, where another search was ongoing. There, the police seized documents and assets, such as laptops and mobile phones belonging to the staff.

At approximately 2 p.m., Ms. Hoang Thi Minh Hong, her husband and 15 employees of CHOICE were brought to the Police Department of Economic Crimes in Ho Chi Minh City, District 10. Ms. Hoang was separated from the others, who were questioned and released at 1 p.m. The police presented her with an arrest warrant on the charge of “tax evasion”. Police officials told her husband unofficially that the amount allegedly evaded was VND 3 billion (USD 127,000). Ms. Hoang was kept in temporary detention overnight.

On 1 June 2023, Ms. Hoang’s husband and CHOICE’s staff members returned to the police station for further questioning. They were released in the afternoon.

On 3 June 2023, Ms. Hoang’s husband paid VND 200,000.00 out of the VND 3 billion allegedly evaded.

On 5 June 2023, a new arrest warrant was issued against Ms. Hoang Thi Minh Hong.

On 14 June 2023, Ms. Hong was transferred from Chí Hòa prison in Ho Chi Minh City to T30 prison, a bigger detention center located two hours away from Ho Chi Minh City.

On 20 June 2023, the Investigation Police Agency of the Ho Chi Minh City Police Department issued an indictment to prosecute Ms. Hoang Thi Minh Hong for the crime of “tax evasion”, under article 200 of the 2015 Criminal Code of Viet Nam. According to the indictment, the investigation process determined that Ms. Hoang Thi Minh Hong had evaded taxes in the amount of VND 5.2 billion (approximately USD 212,000). The indictment also alleges that Ms. Hoang has admitted to the crime.

CONCERNS

In the communication, we express serious concern regarding the detention of Ms. Hoang Thi Minh Hong in connection with the exercise of her rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of expression and opinion, in performing peaceful and legitimate human rights and environmental rights activities. We are particularly concerned that the charge of tax evasion appears to be politically motivated and targeting Ms. Hoang’s legitimate work on environmental protection. We further take note that the criminal prosecution of Ms. Hoang is not taking place in isolation, but is part of a wider crackdown on environmental rights defenders and against civic space in Viet Nam.

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