Ngo Thi To Nhien

Current Status: Pre-trial detention

Photo of Ngo Thi To Nhien

Other Names: Ngô Thị Tố Nhiên, Nhien Ngo

Date of Birth: December 27, 1974

Gender: F

Occupation: NGO worker, Scientist, Business professional

Areas of Activism:

  • Transparency/accountability
  • Policy
  • Environment

Known Affiliations:

On November 28, Project88 released the English version of an 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.

In Vietnamese: Project88’s analysis of the case against environmentalist and NGO leader Ngo Thi To Nhien.


Earlier in the month, in a letter sent to UN staff, Project88 shared concerns regarding the apparent lack of action by the United Nations in response to the arrests of two advisors for the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) in Vietnam, Ngo Thi To Nhien and Nguy Thi Khanh. 

Details - Background, History of Activism, Family Situation.

Ngo Thi To Nhien is the Executive Director of Vietnam Initiative for Energy Transition (VIETSE), the first think tank in Vietnam that specialized in energy transition policy and climate protection.  

Nhien holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronics Informatics from Hanoi University of Technology, Vietnam and a Master’s Degree in Energy System and Management from the University of Flensburg in Germany.

Nhien is a researcher and an independent energy expert who has more than 20 years of working experience and her professional activities focus on energy and environmental economics, energy policy, energy modeling, and assessment of low carbon energy technologies.

Nhien is a Vietnamese government insider. She started her career at the Ministry of Science and Technology, where she developed software systems to assess and manage the risk of natural disasters. 

While still employed by the government, Nhien started working as an energy consultant in 2009. For more than a decade she worked as a consultant on energy projects for the World Bank (where she also worked as staff), the Asian Development Bank, the European Union, UNDP, USAID, as well as for the German and Dutch governments. Many of these projects involved the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the government department responsible for setting the country’s energy policy.

In 2018, Minh Ha Duong, a Nobel Peace Prize-recognized climate scientist, founded VIETSE. Nhien joined as the organization’s Executive Director the following year.

In 2021, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) hired Nhien to conduct a study that aims to imagine a future for Vietnam’s electricity sector without coal. The study, which cost over $200,000, appears to have been instrumental that led to the announcement by Vietnam at COP26 of Net Zero pathway. 

In 2022, Nhien was again contracted by UNOPS to lead a contentious institutional reform project that aims to decarbonize Vietnam’s energy sector. The project sought to assess the potential for decommissioning 26 coal power plants that are owned by three state-owned energy monopolies —PetroVietnam, the Vietnam National Coal and Mineral Industries Group, and Vietnam Electricity (EVN). The three companies are deeply invested in coal, accounting for over 50% of the total coal-fired power capacity of the country.

In early 2023, after returning to Vietnam from an overseas trip, Nhien allegedly had her passport confiscated. 

At the time of her arrest, Nhien was working on implementation of the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), a $15.5 billion project funded by the G7 to help Vietnam transition away from fossil fuels.

Nhien’s arrest came 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 documented clear evidence that these prosecutions were 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 found 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.

Nhien has two children.

Arrested September 15, 2023. Charged under Art. 342 (2015 Code).

September 15, 2023
  • Art. 342 (2015 Code)
Hanoi city public security, Hanoi
Hanoi (map)
  • freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention
  • liberty and security of the person
  • freedom of expression

Nhien was detained on Sept. 15, 2023. Police, however, have stated that she was only charged on Sept. 20, which means that she was held without charge for five days. Nhien’s arrest and the charge against her were not announced by the police until September 30. Police charged Nhien with ‘stealing, buying, selling, or destroying the seal or documents of a state agency or organization’ under Article 342 of the country’s 2015 Criminal Code. 

Two consultants hired by VIETSE—Le Quoc Anh and Duong Viet Duc(*) were also arrested and charged under Article 342. Anh is the head of the system analysis department of Power Engineering Consulting JSC 1 and Viet is the senior specialist of the investment management committee of the National Power Transmission Corporation, both subsidiaries of state electricity utility, EVN.  

If convicted, Nhien, Anh, and Duc each face up to five years’ imprisonment. 

Lieutenant General To An Xo, a representative of the Ministry of Public Security, revealed details about Nhien’s arrest when journalist Huong Giang from Thanh Tra newspaper questioned him at the government’s press conference on Sept. 30. According to Xo, Nhien was arrested and charged by the Hanoi Security Investigation Agency after she paid Anh and Duc for documents regarding the planning and development of electricity grids that belong to EVN. Xo explained, ‘those are documents for internal use only, which can not be shared or made public. They are categorized as confidential documents.’ 

He denied accusations that she was arrested for engaging in ‘environmental activism’. Rather, he alleged that Nhien hired Anh and Duc as consultants in 2020, and, in return, the two men provided her with documents related to the planning and development of EVN’s 500 kV and 220 kV electricity grids. 

(*) Lieutenant General To An Xo referred to this person as Duong Duc Viet, whereas VIETSE publications refer to him as Duong Viet Duc.

Profile last updated: 2024-01-11 21:21:27

Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter

© 2022 The 88 Project . The 88 Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization registered in the state of Illinois, United States.