US, UN criticize Vietnam’s detention of climate activist

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and United Nations on Friday criticized Vietnam’s detention of members of an environmental group including its founder, saying such actions were part of a broader trend toward curbing free speech.

“The United States is concerned by the detention of leaders and staff of CHANGE, including the ongoing detention of CHANGE’s founder Hoang Thi Minh Hong,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Hong and the other members were taken into custody on Wednesday according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. While others were released, Hong was detained on charges of tax evasion, it said in a statement on Friday.

She is the fifth prominent environmental human rights defender arrested in Vietnam for alleged tax evasion in the last two years, the U.N. rights agency said.

“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,” Miller said.

The United States and the United Nations both said the detentions were part of a wider trend of Vietnamese authorities targeting free speech.

“These detentions by Vietnamese authorities are part of a concerning pattern of arrests of local environmental and civil society advocates,” the State Department’s Miller said.

In Hanoi, the foreign ministry spokesman on Thursday did not comment on Hong’s detention.

Hong founded the non-governmental organization CHANGE in 2013 to take action against climate change, illegal wildlife trade and pollution. She shut the group down last year after the arrests of other human rights defenders, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement on Friday.

Hong, 50, once touted as “the climate hero” in her country, has been featured on state media and was listed by Forbes magazine among the 50 most influential Vietnamese women in 2019.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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