HANOI, Vietnam - A Vietnamese court on Thursday jailed a leading climate activist for tax evasion, the latest environmentalist put behind bars by the communist government.
The court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced Hoang Thi Minh Hong to three years in prison for dodging $275,000 in taxes related to her environmental campaign group CHANGE, her lawyer Nguyen Van Tu told AFP.
The 50-year-old is at least the fifth green campaigner to be jailed on tax evasion charges in the last two years as Vietnam's authoritarian government steps up a crackdown on activists.
Her husband Hoang Vinh Nam told AFP he was 'disappointed' at the verdict.
'The sentence given to Hong today was too heavy,' he said.
'I think it was unfair to Hong. The defense lawyer did his best but his arguments were not considered properly.'
State media quoted the indictment as saying the charges related to revenue generated by CHANGE from 2012 to 2022.
Hong admitted the charges and along with her family paid the state $145,000 in return for leniency, state media said.
Hong founded CHANGE to mobilize Vietnamese, particularly young people, to take action on pressing environmental issues including climate change, the illegal wildlife trade and pollution.
But she abruptly shut down the group last year after four environmental and human rights activists were jailed for tax evasion.
Vietnam has committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and a group of rich nations last year pledged to raise at least $15.5 billion to help get the country off fossil fuels.
But the government tolerates no opposition to one-party rule, with critics facing intimidation, harassment and restricted movement, and it has shown little appetite for dissenting voices on environmental issues.
Earlier this month Hanoi police detained the director of the Vietnam Initiative for Energy Transition - an independent energy policy think tank.
Ngo Thi To Nhien, who has worked with the EU, World Bank and United Nations, was reportedly working on the implementation plan for Vietnam's Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), a $15 billion G7-funded project to help wean Vietnam off fossil fuels.
No official information on Nhien's accusation has been made public.
Hong has been recognized internationally for her work: She joined the Obama Foundation Scholars program in New York in 2018 and was listed by Forbes among the 50 most influential Vietnamese women in 2019.
When she was detained in May, the U.N.'s human rights body was among many international groups to voice concern, warning of the 'chilling effect' of tax cases against civil society groups.
Among the four green activists jailed last year was Nguy Thi Khanh, a globally recognized climate and energy campaigner who won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018.
She spent nearly a year in jail before she was released last month.
Founder of Green ID, one of Vietnam's most well-known environmental organizations, Khanh had been among the few in the communist nation challenging the government's plans to increase coal power.
Hong's case comes less than three weeks after US President Joe Biden visited Hanoi to agree a new 'strategic partnership,' a trip on which he said he had pressed Vietnam's top leader on human rights.