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Vietnam climate campaigner Nguy Thi Khanh released from prison

Khanh, who had been detained for 21 months, is credited with hastening Vietnam’s shift away from pollutive coal through her advocacy efforts in one of the world’s most difficult countries for environmental activists.

Vietnamese climate campaigner Nguy Thi Khanh
Climate campaigner Nguy Thi Khanh rallied against the coal sector in Vietnam, which recently received overseas funding to shift away from the fossil fuels towards renewables. Image: The Goldman Environmental Prize / Facebook

Human rights groups have welcomed the early release from prison of Nguy Thi Khanh, a prominent Vietnamese climate campaigner.

Khanh was incarcerated for allegedly not paying tax on her winnings from the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize in the summer of 2022, a charge human rights and climate groups have condemned.

She was released five months before her planned release date.

The news were announced through a message posted on her personal Facebook page last Saturday (13 May) which, translated to English, 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.”

In a statement, a coalition of climate justice and human rights organisations said they were  “overjoyed” at the news. The Goldman Environmental Prize said: “Khanh is a hero to us and to millions around the world because of her phenomenal work on behalf of the environment.” 

Khanh has been globally recognised for her work to encourage the Vietnamese authorities to shift away from pollutive coal, the country’s primary energy source, and towards clean energy.

She has campaigned for provincial governments to curb coal expansion plans and raise awareness of the link between coal power emissions and Vietnam’s capital Hanoi having some of the world’s poorest air quality.

Through her research and policy engagement efforts, Khanh pushed to demonstrate the cost effectiveness of solar power in Vietnam through the non-government group she founded more than a decade ago, Green Innovation and Development Centre. The country now has the largest installed renewables capacity of any country in Southeast Asia and has committed to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Khanh’s release comes as Vietnam negotiates the terms of funding from developed countries to aid the country’s energy transition, known as the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP).

Khanh was named among the 2022 winners of the Eco-Business A-List, an annual search for Asia’s most impactful sustainability practitioners.

Eco-Business A-List judge Herry Cho, the head of sustainability and sustainable finance at the Singapore Exchange, commended Khanh for her “rare bravery and a relentless spirit” in pushing for clean energy, despite the odds, in assessing her nomination for the awards earlier this year.

Vietnam ranks among the lowest in the world for press freedom, civil liberties and political rights, according to numerous metrics such as Freedom House and the Reporters without Borders Press Freedom index. Three other climate advocates, who were detained at the same time as Khanh on similar tax evasion charges, remain in prison. They include environmental lawyer Dang Dinh Bach. 

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