HANOI: Vietnamese authorities have detained a prominent climate activist for alleged tax evasion, her husband said Friday, the latest environmentalist to face such an accusation.

Hoang Thi Minh Hong, the founder of now-defunct NGO CHANGE, which aimed to tackle some of the country's most urgent environmental issues, was taken into custody in Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday.

“I can confirm Hong has been under temporary detention since May 31 with the accusation of tax evasion,“ Hoang Vinh Nam told AFP.

Hong founded CHANGE in 2013, focusing on mobilising Vietnamese, particularly young people, to take action against pressing environmental issues including climate change, the illegal wildlife trade, and pollution.

The 50-year-old has been widely recognised for her work, joining the Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University in New York in 2018 and listed by Forbes among the 50 most influential Vietnamese women in 2019.

She shut CHANGE late last year after Vietnam's authoritarian government handed down prison terms for tax evasion to four environmental human rights defenders, Nguy Thi Khanh, Mai Phan Loi, Bach Hung Duong, and Dang Dinh Bach.

“Vietnam’s selective use of its vague and flawed tax law to target environmentalists and climate change activists with politically motivated prosecutions is a new, extremely troubling development,“ said Phil Robertson, the Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch.

“Leading environmental activist Hoang Thi Minh Hong is the latest victim in this accelerating crackdown.”

Khanh, a globally recognised climate and energy campaigner who won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018, spent nearly a year in jail before she was released last month.

Founder of Green ID, one of Vietnam's most prominent environmental organisations, Khanh had been among the few in the communist nation challenging the government's plans to increase coal power.

Dang Dinh Bach, a community lawyer and NGO worker, worked to inform people whose health and livelihoods were threatened by coal projects and other dirty industries. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

In response to an AFP question on Hong’s arrest on Thursday, Nguyen Duc Thang, deputy spokesperson for the foreign ministry said: “Vietnam has always affirmed its strong commitment in environmental protection and coping with climate change, green and sustainable development”.

“In Vietnam, individuals, associations and organisations, NGOs are guaranteed normal operation in accordance with laws and regulations, while at the same time, they must obey and take responsibilities for their activities before laws.” - AFP