Environmental leader Dang Dinh Bach, accused of “tax evasion,” faces trial

Lawyer Dang Dinh Bach. Source: Thiennhien.net

Dang Dinh Bach, director of the non-profit organization Law and Policy of Sustainable Development (LPSD), will be brought to trial on Monday, January 24, 2022. He was accused of “tax evasion” and charged under Article 200 of the 2015 Criminal Code on July 2, 2021. Bach was arrested just two weeks after his wife gave birth to their son on June 9, 2021. 

Bach, 44, is well known for his leadership in engaging and mobilizing young people to participate in charitable projects such as helping victims of storms and disasters, especially those impacted by climate change and environmental catastrophes. He has created many competitions and awards for innovation in sustainable living, which have attracted the participation of many young Vietnamese. The head of LPSD, Bach has actively led campaigns to support the government’s fight against the spread of COVID-19. LPSD is also a member of the Vietnam Environmental Network (VEN), Vietnam Sustainable Energy Alliance (VSEA), and the Vietnam Non-Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Alliance (NCDs-VN). 

It has been suggested that the allegations against Bach are a response to his and Mai Phan Loi‘s attempts to build up a connection of NGOs under the regulation of the European Union-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), advocating for workers’ rights, land rights, and the environment. Bach and Loi’s organizations could play an essential role in monitoring Vietnam’s obligations under the EVFTA. 

Seven months after his arrest, Bach was informed about his trial date via his attorneys, Nguyen Thi Huong and Nguyen Van Hung, during their most recent visit on January 14. However, the court representative had first informed Bach’s attorneys that it could be postponed because many officials who work for the Ha Noi Court have tested positive for COVID-19. In the course of writing this article, however, the trial date was reconfirmed by the attorneys by 3:30 pm on January 21. Bach’s trial will be held at 8:00 am, January 24, 2022, at The Supreme People’s Court of Hanoi, 01 Pham Van Bach Street, Cau Giay District, Hanoi. His wife and the family still have not received the invitation to the trial. 

According to his wife, during the same visit on January 14, and under the detention center’s surveillance, Bach informed his lawyers that he has been on a hunger strike since January 10 to protest against his prolonged incommunicado detention and denial of family visits. He also asked to be released on bail and to have his right to a fair trial protected. He decided to continue his hunger strike until January 23.

Bach is currently being held at the Detention Center No.1, Phuc Dien Street, Nam Tu Liem, Hanoi City Public Security, Hanoi. Thao and the family are not allowed to see him. They can send him food (which is bought at the detention center) twice per month. Bach is a vegan. The family is concerned that Bach can not maintain his physical and mental health if he follows the vegan diet, due to the poor nutritional value of food in the detention center. As a result, they have sent him non-vegan food. Nevertheless, he has given it all away to his fellow inmates. Bach follows a meager diet of rice, sesame, and salt. The family worries for him because he has lost a lot of weight since his arrest. He was in good health before the arrest, Thao said.

On January 18, 2022, Thao and attorney Huong went to the Hanoi Court to submit a document saying that Bach’s family would pay compensation (on the accusation of tax evasion) before the trial, amounting to VND 500,000,000 (~US$ 22,000). However, they were told that they need to ask for the judge’s signature to be allowed to do so. As of the time of this writing, the family still has not received the approval needed to pay the fine. The family was advised by their attorneys that they should propose again at trial to pay the compensation with the hope that Bach will receive a minor sentence. It is refundable if Bach is proven innocent. 

While his upcoming trial captures global attention, we call on Vietnam to protect his right to a fair trial and for the international community to press Vietnam to show specific, measurable improvements in its human rights record. As one example of this, Vietnam should immediately allow Bach the right to see his family, especially his infant son, and receive necessary supplies. 

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