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The detention of members of an environmental group, including its founder, in Vietnam has drawn criticism from both the United States and the United Nations.

The actions taken by Vietnamese authorities are seen as part of a broader trend aimed at suppressing free speech.

In a statement, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller expressed concern over the detention of leaders and staff of the organization CHANGE, including its founder Hoang Thi Minh Hong. While some members were released, Hong remains in custody on charges of tax evasion, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

This is the fifth instance in the past two years in which a prominent environmental human rights defender has been arrested in Vietnam on alleged tax evasion charges, as reported by the U.N. rights agency.

Both the United States and the United Nations called on Vietnam to respect the rights of those detained and to uphold the freedoms of expression and association for all Vietnamese citizens. They view these detentions as part of a troubling pattern of suppressing free speech by Vietnamese authorities.

The foreign ministry spokesman in Hanoi declined to comment on Hong's detention when approached by reporters.

Hoang Thi Minh Hong established the non-governmental organization CHANGE in 2013 to combat climate change, illegal wildlife trade, and pollution. The group was disbanded last year following the arrests of other human rights defenders, as stated by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Hong, 50, previously recognized as a "climate hero" in Vietnam, has been featured in state media and was listed among the 50 most influential Vietnamese women by Forbes magazine in 2019. Photo by Ltn12345, Wikimedia commons.