Chuck Baclagon

Eight years ago, I was sent on my first assignment at to be part of the team that organized the People’s Climate March in Jakarta, Indonesia. It was there that I first met my new colleagues in person.

Among them was Hoang Thi Minh Hong, from Vietnam—her name was unknown to me until that moment, yet her presence left an indelible mark.

I didn’t know her at the time, but from the get-go, I already knew that Hong carries with her a unique spirit—one that is infused with what I can only describe as a lighthearted tenacity. It’s a quality reminiscent of the unyielding spirit that has long fueled the Vietnamese people’s struggle for self-determination amid their tumultuous history.

Vietnam’s narrative unfolds as a tapestry woven with threads of resilience and an enduring battle for self-determination against a backdrop of empires. Growing up in this crucible, Hong emerged with an indomitable spirit—one that finds solace in the cadence of music, the rhythm of dance, and the vitality of Zumba—an exercise routine she made sure all of us would do when she hosted the first 350 East Asia Climate Leadership Camp in 2015.

Hong leading the East Asia Climate Leadership Camp in a Zumba session. Photo: Fenton Lutunatabua

On this same camp, we had the opportunity to visit Ha Long, a coastal city in northeastern Vietnam, with historical connections to coal due to its proximity to significant coal mining areas in the Quang Ninh Province. This region has long been known for its rich coal deposits, which played a pivotal role in the area’s economic development and historical significance.

We were given the chance to immerse ourselves with people from the province, dialogue with coal miners and visit their coal museum, which provided insights into the history and significance of coal mining in the region and the role it played in the area’s development and history.

Coal miners from Quang Ninh , Vietnam. Photo: Fenton Lutunatabua

This is where I came to appreciate Hong’s understanding of the intricate nuances of transitioning away from fossil fuels. She recognizes the profound connection of her country’s history to coal enough to know the mineral’s strategic importance in Vietnam’s industrial rise intertwined with its defiance against colonial powers.

Ho Chi Minh once eloquently stated, “Nothing is more precious than independence and liberty.” Hong embodies the unwavering spirit of the Vietnamese people—individuals who weathered the onslaught of numerous empires’ attempts at subjugation.

What truly sets Hong apart, however, is her unwavering motivation. Her call to action springs from an abiding love for humanity and the planet we call home. Her actions serve as a testament to the belief that freedom is more than just a right; it’s the unfettered ability to act, think, and speak without the stifling constraints that bind us. It’s an inalienable liberty and an opportunity to effect change unencumbered.

It grieves me deeply to write these words, for at this very moment, Hong is sentenced to a most unjust three-year imprisonment on spurious grounds of tax evasion.

Her dedication to climate justice transcends mere duty; it’s a joyful celebration of life itself. She grasps that the road to a sustainable future must be illuminated by happiness, nurtured by solidarity, and guided by unwavering resolve.

Confronted with such formidable adversity, we must resoundingly echo the call for the release of Hong and the many other advocates who find themselves unjustly incarcerated for their unyielding dedication to the cause of a sustainable future.

Volunteers from 350 Pilipinas hold a solidarity vigil demanding the release of Hong and other environmental defenders in Vietnam. Photo: Leo M. Sabangan II


Take action

Here are some things you can do now to get involved and show support:

  • #FreeHongFreeThemAll – call for Hoang Thi Minh Hong’s release and stand in solidarity with all climate defenders.

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