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Vietnam detains energy policy think tank chief

Researcher Ngo Thi To Nhien is sixth person working on environmental issues taken into custody in the past two years

Ngo Thi To Nhien, executive director of the Hanoi-based Vietnam Initiative for Energy Transition (VIET)

Ngo Thi To Nhien, executive director of the Hanoi-based Vietnam Initiative for Energy Transition (VIET). (Photo: VIET)

Published: September 21, 2023 05:27 AM GMT

Updated: September 21, 2023 05:35 AM GMT

Vietnam has detained the director of an independent energy policy think tank, a rights group said Wednesday, the sixth person working on environmental issues taken into custody in the past two years.

Ngo Thi To Nhien, executive director of the Hanoi-based Vietnam Initiative for Energy Transition (VIET), was detained on September 15, according to The 88 Project, which advocates for freedom of expression in the Southeast Asian country.

Nhien is a researcher who has worked with a number of international organizations, including the World Bank, the European Union, the United Nations and the Asian Development Bank.

She was 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, at the time of her arrest, The 88 Project said.

"Nhien's detention is significant as it signals that research on energy policy is now off limits," said Ben Swanton of The 88 Project.

"This is the latest development in a disturbing trend of the Vietnamese government criminalizing policy research and activism."

Police also raided and searched the VIET office and interrogated the organization's staff.

VIET did not immediately respond to a request for comment from AFP.

The United Nations Development Programme told AFP Nhien "is a known Vietnamese energy expert" who by virtue of her expertise, had participated in UNDP events and consultations on the topic of energy transition.

The detention comes after the arrest of prominent climate activist Hoang Thi Minh Hong for alleged tax evasion in June. Her husband told AFP Wednesday her trial was scheduled for next week.

Vietnam's authoritarian government has jailed four environmental human rights defenders for tax evasion -- Nguy Thi Khanh, Mai Phan Loi, Bach Hung Duong, and Dang Dinh Bach.

Khanh, a globally recognized climate and energy campaigner who won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018, spent nearly a year in jail before she was released in May.

Vietnam has committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Activists released 

Vietnam's communist government tolerates no dissent and there are currently close to 200 activists in jail in the country. Government critics face intimidation, harassment and restricted movement.

Separately on Wednesday, Vietnamese human rights lawyer Vo An Don told AFP that authorities removed an exit ban preventing him from relocating to the United States days before President Biden's recent visit to Hanoi.

The lawyer is one of at least three activists allowed to leave the country or released from prison before Biden's trip on September 10-11, which saw Vietnam and the United States agree to deepen cooperation in the face of China's rising influence.

Nguyen Bac Truyen, a legal expert and religious freedom advocate, was released from jail and allowed to travel to Germany, while Loi -- the environmental human rights defender -- was released 18 months early.

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