The U.S. State Department has called on Vietnam to free imprisoned environmental activist Nguy Thi Khanh.

In a June 19 statement, Department Spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. was "deeply concerned" about the two-year sentence given to Khanh two days earlier. Price noted that the activist had "been recognized internationally for her work to advance climate change and sustainable energy issues in Vietnam."

The U.S. also sought the release of "other detained environmental activists working for the benefit of Vietnam and its people," Price said. He added, "We note authorities arrested her on the same day the Hanoi People's Court sentenced environmental activists Mai Phan Loi and Bach Hung Duong, and later the same month activist Dang Dinh Bach, to prison terms on similar charges."

The spokesperson did not mention the charges against Khanh and the others.

The entire statement can be viewed on the State Department website.

Fear among Vietnam's environmentalists

In The New York Times, Sui-Lee Wee reported that Khanh's prison sentence had been for tax evasion. The imprisonment of the 46-year-old mother of three had "sent tremors of fear through the environmental movement" in Vietnam, Wee said.

There had not been much renewable energy development in Vietnam before Khanh's activism, but now the country was Southeast Asia's leader in developed wind and solar capacity, Wee said.

Radio Free Asia said prosecutors had targeted Khanh as part of a crackdown on activists.

Goldman Environmental Prize

The State Department statement noted that the Vietnamese environmentalist had received the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize.

According to the Goldman Environmental Foundation website, the prize is given to "individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk."

'A wider effort to silence environmental leaders'

Al Jazeera quoted Michael Sutton, the executive director of the Goldman Environmental Prize, as saying the arrest of Khanh was "part of a wider effort to silence environmental leaders in Vietnam." Sutton had called for the Vietnamese activist to be set free, Al Jazeera said.

The foundation's website mentioned Khanh's following achievements:

  • In order to campaign for sustainable energy in Vietnam, she created the Green Innovation and Development Centre in 2011.
  • She subsequently led the formation of the Vietnam Sustainable Energy Alliance, a network of 11 Vietnamese and international organizations working together on energy questions facing the region.
  • In 2016, she succeeded in persuading the government to revise its Power Development Plan to reduce the number of planned coal-burning plants and increase the use of renewable energy.

The foundation produced a video about Khanh's work.

The video can be seen at the foundation website or at YouTube.

In the video, she recalled educating the public about the effects coal-burning plants had on people's health. "Air pollution has a direct effect on people's health. As soon as the air conditioner gets worse, we start coughing and have difficulty breathing and even dizziness," she said.