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Vietnam Tightens The Reins On Social Media Influencers Speaking Out About Environment, Foreign Affairs


Vietnam Tightens The Reins On Social Media Influencers Speaking Out About Environment, Foreign Affairs 

The Vietnamese government arrested a popular YouTuber on February 29 as part of a broader crackdown aimed at preventing civil society and social media influencers from shaping the country’s policies and foreign relations. 

Vietnam Tightens The Reins On Social Media Influencers Speaking Out About Environment, Foreign Affairs 

Nguyen Chi Tuyen, known as Anh Chi, faces anti-state charges and will spend four months in detention while authorities investigate claims he disseminated information against the state.

As one of Vietnam’s most prominent civil society activists, Tuyen operates successful YouTube channels where he discusses foreign affairs topics like the war between Russia and Ukraine. He was part of the “No-U group” that rejected China’s claims over territory in the South China Sea.

Zachary Abuza, a Southeast Asia expert at the National War College, said Tuyen is the latest influential activist targeted by Vietnamese authorities. 

“For independent journalists, there has been a swath of cyber laws, decrees, and policies that have raised the costs, imposed civil fines, and shifted the onus to policing to the social media platforms themselves,” he told Deutsche Welle.

“The Ministry of Public Security has focused its attention more on the key influencers,” Abuza said, claiming the government hopes self-censorship will limit dissenting voices. 

He also took to X to express support for Tuyen. “This is heartbreaking. Anh Chi is a principled and courageous citizen journalist. He’s been critical of the government’s meek response to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, environmental abuses, and corruption. He’s a stalwart proponent of Ukraine.”

The arrest reflects Vietnam’s efforts to control narratives on issues impacting national security and prevent civil society groups from gaining traction. Leaked Politburo documents reveal policies aimed at “ensuring national security” by blocking civil society from shaping policies and creating opposition factions.

As of writing, 176 activists remain imprisoned in that country according to The 88 Project, an American organization that advocates for freedom of speech in Vietnam. They have managed to obtain and translate “Directive 24”, a leaked document of Vietnam’s Politburo, the highest decision-making body.

The February leak revealed the plans of Vietnam’s communist leaders. Abuza says on X the “Politburo document contains dire warnings about the threat posed to national security from ‘hostile and reactionary forces’ brought to Vietnam through its growing international ties.” 

The arrest “encapsulates [the government’s] thinking about the threat posed by civil society in leading a colored revolution,” Abuza stated regarding the head of the Politburo Nguyen Phu Trong’s crackdown.

Vietnam’s recent engagement with the United States and China may have emboldened its hardline stance. The U.S. upgraded ties to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” last year, but human rights concerns went unraised, Abuza stressed. Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited Vietnam in December to discuss a “shared future” between the nations.

Environmental activists have faced similar repression when challenging Vietnam’s energy policies, often imprisoned on tax evasion or fraud charges as a tactic to remove dissenting voices from society.

The Vietnamese government maintains tight control over state functions, organizations, and media as a one-party communist state. While its economy grows rapidly, Vietnam still has an alarming record of corruption, censorship, human rights, and civic freedoms.

Through measures like the Tuyen arrest, Vietnamese authorities aim to limit influencers and activists from waking up civil society and starting opposition movements or swaying foreign policies out of the government’s control. The crackdown aims to preserve the Communist Party’s supremacy amidst Vietnam’s global integration.

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David Adler is an entrepreneur and freelance blog post writer who enjoys writing about business, entrepreneurship, travel and the influencer marketing space.

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