The US said it was "deeply concerned" by the sentencing of prominent Vietnamese environmentalist and activist Nguy Thi Khanh, calling on the government to release her.
The climate activist and founder of the Green Innovation and Development Centre (GreenID) was sentenced to two years in prison on Saturday on charges of tax evasion. Ms Khanh, 46, was arrested in February.
Earlier in January, government authorities had raided her house and offices and confiscated documents and devices.
"The United States calls on the government of Vietnam to release Khanh, who has been recognised internationally for her work to advance climate change and sustainable energy issues in Vietnam, as well as other detained environmental activists working for the benefit of Vietnam and its people," state department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.
Ms Khanh was the first Vietnamese winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018 for her extensive work in the field of green energy – countering the government's efforts to beef up its coal production. She had managed to convince the government to strip 20,000 megawatts of coal power from the national energy plan by 2030.
Mr Price highlighted the fact that she was arrested 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.
Journalist Mai Phan Loi was sentenced to a four-year prison term for tax fraud, while Dang Dinh Bach, who heads the Law and Policy of Sustainable Development Research Centre, was sentenced to five years for tax evasion.
Activist Bach Hung Duong was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for a similar tax fraud allegation. Critics have accused the Vietnamese government of using the country’s tax agencies to crack down on activists vocal against Hanoi's ambitious coal expansion efforts.
"Civil society partners are a crucial part of helping countries like Vietnam meet their climate change and environmental protection goals," Mr Price said.
“From her contribution to Vietnamese society and her works, the verdict given to Khanh was too harsh,” her environmental NGO GreenID told AFP. Ms Khanh founded GreenID in 2011 to promote sustainable energy development in Vietnam.
“We join the international community in calling for the release of climate & energy policy leader, Nguy Thi Khanh,” the Goldman Prize said on Twitter. “A 2018 Goldman Prize winner, we believe the charges levelled against her are part of a wider effort to repress environmental leaders in Vietnam.”