One of Vietnam’s leading environmental activists has been freed from prison five months before the end of her sentence.
Nguy Thi Khanh, the founder of the GreenID Vietnam campaign group, was sentenced to 24 months in prison for alleged tax evasion in June 2022, later reduced to 21 months.
She was accused of not paying enough tax on the prize money she received for winning the Goldman environmental award.
But, after 16 months of imprisonment, a message was posted to her personal Facebook page on Saturday which said: “Endless happiness to be back in the midst of family’s love, to meet and hug loved ones after 16 months of being isolated. Sincere thanks to everyone who has cared, shared and helped me personally and my family during the past year and a half.”
Khanh’s fellow GreenID campaigners Dang Dinh Bach and Mai Van Loi remain in prison on similar tax evasion charges.
Vietnam is a one-party state without democratic elections which ranks low on human rights indexes.
Khanh’s campaigning style focussed on working with the government and state agencies to revise official energy plans rather than on criticising the government or companies.
The imprisonment of leading anti-coal activists was awkward for the Vietnamese government as it negotiated a $15.5 billion coal-to-clean energy financing deal, known as a Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), with wealthy nations and investors.
The US, which co-chaired the JETP talks with Vietnam, condemned the imprisonment of Khanh and her fellow campaigners last June. “Civil society partners are a crucial part of helping countries like Vietnam meet their climate change and environmental protection goals,” the US state department said.
So happy my dear colleague Nguy Thi Khanh was released, 5 months before her due date. Hope she will rest well, and continue her heroic work for #climate.
I wonder if the gov will consider the same favor for the other three, while working toward #Just #Energy #Transition #JETP pic.twitter.com/U18qGeqniO
— Hong Hoang (@honghoangchange) May 15, 2023
A spokesperson for the German government’s BMZ ministry, which is also funding the JETP, told Climate Home in November it had raised human rights concerns with the Vietnamese government. A separate source with knowledge of these discussions, said the Germans “received significant pushback”.
But the BMZ spokesperson also said in November that the deal could help activists. “With the agreement on the JETP, we also hope to be able to send a positive signal to climate activists”, the spokesperson said at the time.
US climate envoy John Kerry has said that “some forces are fighting to keep coal” in Vietnam. The country’s coal mines are owned by state-owned company Vinacomin, while state-owned oil and gas group PetroVietnam has built several coal-fired power stations in recent years.
The role of civil society
Due to the sensitivity of the issue, Climate Home News did not try to contact Vietnamese campaigners. But thousands of people liked Khanh’s Facebook post, expressing relief that she was out of prison.
Leo Roberts, who leads E3G’s fossil fuel transition team, told Climate Home: “Environmental advocates in Vietnam are key in analysing and articulating Vietnam’s transition to a low carbon future, and their energy expertise is vital for the country’s energy transition.”
He added: “Vietnam signed the Cop26 Global Coal to Clean Statement, agreed to coal “phase down” and committed to net zero, but must now translate this into practical steps. Energy experts from Vietnam’s civil society, able to operate in a safe, supportive and collaborative environment, are absolutely essential participants in achieving this.”