Saturday, 24 June 2023 marked two years since Vietnam's leading environmental lawyer, Dang Dinh Bach ("Bach"), was wrongly imprisoned just two weeks after his son was born, due to his leadership in the anti-coal movement. Bach is a highly respected environmental justice lawyer in Vietnam who has dedicated his life to advocating for the health and well-being of marginalised communities throughout the country. He was arrested after leading a campaign to reduce Vietnam’s reliance on coal. The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) stands in solidarity with Mr. Bach and joins the international human rights community in calling for his immediate release.
He was imprisoned on charges of "tax evasion" in June 2021 and sentenced to five years in prison on 24 January 2022. Bach did not receive a fair trial, as he was not allowed to meet with his lawyer until seven months after his arrest being permitted to see his lawyers only twice before his trial. Furthermore, the prosecution refused to share the evidence against Bach before the trial making it impossible for him to prepare his defence. Family members, supporters and the public were barred from attending the trial which ended with a disproportionately harsh sentence against Bach which deviated from the usual punishment for individuals accused of tax evasion in Vietnam.
The unjust imprisonment of Mr. Bach is not an isolated incident but rather part of a distressing pattern of targeting environmental leaders in Vietnam. Since June 2021, five prominent environmental defenders have been arrested, detained, and sentenced to up to five years in prison in Vietnam under similar charges of income tax evasion. SERI strongly condemns the misuse of vague tax offenses as a means to silence and imprison individuals who courageously defend the environment and advocate for the rights of local communities.
Members of the UN Human Rights Council have drawn attention to Vietnam's ambiguous tax laws. These laws impose unreasonably burdensome requirements on non-governmental organisations, hindering their reporting, registration of funding, and project operations. The United Nations has called upon the Government of Vietnam to revise these overbroad and vague tax provisions, as they pose a significant threat to civil society and impede the ability of non-governmental organisations to function effectively within the country.
SERI was troubled to learn of Mr. Bach’s intention to go on a hunger strike to the death, which began on June 24, 2023 - the second anniversary of his arrest. We appeal to the Vietnamese government to take immediate action to prevent MR Bach’s death by promptly addressing the injustices faced by Mr. Bach and ensuring his release.
SERI stands resolute in our support of Mr. Bach who courageously advocates for environmental justice, and for others like him who act in support of vulnerable communities. We call on the international human rights community to unite in support of Mr. Bach's release and to exert pressure on the Vietnamese government to uphold the values of justice, human rights, and the rule of law.
Download the full statement here.