Project88 Releases Issue Brief on the Arrest of Energy Think Tank Leader Ngo Thi To Nhien

On November 28, Project88 released a new issue brief covering the arrest of Ngo Thi To Nhien by Vietnamese authorities and documenting how her arrest is part of Vietnam’s ongoing suppression of climate activists.

On September 15, 2023, Vietnam arrested Ngo Thi To Nhien, the head of the Vietnam Initiative for Energy Transition Social Enterprise. After five days in detention, on September 20, police charged Nhien with misappropriating government documents. After Nhien’s arrest, VIETSE was forced to shut down.

Nhien worked closely with the Vietnamese government and international organizations on the country’s energy transition towards renewable energy. She started her career working for the Vietnamese government. She has also worked as a consultant on Vietnamese energy projects with the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Union, USAID, UNOPS, and UNDP, as well as for the German and Dutch governments.

Nhien’s arrest comes at a time of persecution against activists working on Vietnam’s energy transition. Over the past two years, Vietnam’s one-party state has arrested or imprisoned six key leaders of the country’s climate change movement—five on false charges of tax evasion and one—Ngo Thi To Nhien—for allegedly misappropriating government documents. Nguy Thi Khanh, Dang Dinh Bach, Mai Phan Loi, Bach Hung Duong, and Hoang Thi Minh Hong were all imprisoned on false tax evasion charges since 2021.

An investigation by Project88 published in April documents clear evidence that these prosecutions are politically driven and designed to criminalize policy activism.

Although Nhien was charged with buying confidential documents, while other climate activists have been charged with tax evasion, the common thread in these cases is that all of the individuals involved ran organizations that conducted advocacy on energy policy, and all received foreign funding to carry out this work.

After considering the evidence, Project88 finds that the Vietnamese government deliberately and arbitrarily applied criminal law to arrest Nhien in an effort to stop her research and advocacy on energy policy and discourage others from working in this field.

The evidence suggests that Vietnam is once again weaponizing the law to target researchers and activists that conduct work on energy policy, this time simply weaponizing a different provision of the country’s criminal code. By arresting Nhien, the Vietnamese government has sent the message that research on energy policy is now off limits to civil society.

Read Project88’s full issue brief here.

© 2023 The 88 Project