NGUYEN Phu Trong
General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam since 19 January 2011
Predator since taking office
Vietnam, 175th/180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index
PREDATORY METHOD: Atavistic totalitarianism
Nguyen Phu Trong knows about journalism because he was a journalist himself for much of his adult life. Or at least he knows about the Vietnamese version of journalism. Vietnam has thousands of newspapers, magazines, TV channels and news websites, but just one editor, the head of the central propaganda department of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), who follows the General Secretary’s direct orders.
Trong is the classic apparatchik who rose through the party, got himself appointed chairman of the National Assembly in 2006 and finally head of the politburo five years later. But “Comrade Nguyen” is also a formidable tactician who has used Machiavellian methods to impose a conservative line within the one-party-state and restore an atavistic version of party totalitarianism. Specialised publications that traditionally reflected ideological and pragmatic debates taking place within the party were reined in after Trong was given a second five-year term as general secretary in 2016.
At the same time, Trong has established an unrelenting system of repression to deal with an increasingly robust civil society seeking reliable information, especially on the Internet. To this end, he can count on a police and judicial apparatus that follows orders. To prosecute independent bloggers and journalists, he uses articles in the penal code that, inter alia, penalise those who dare to “abuse democratic freedoms.”
FAVOURITE TARGETS: Those who reject propaganda
The preferred place for circulating independently reported information and opinions straying from the party line, the Internet is now the focus of attacks by Trong and by Force 47, a cyber-troll unit that gets its orders from Trong. The leading targets are bloggers and cyber-dissidents who have been posting widely online since the start of the 2010s and have been subjected to mass arrests and long prison sentences since 2016. More than 30 of them are currently jailed in appalling conditions.
Trong’s regime also targets journalists who, like him, began their careers in the official press but, unlike him, could not bear to continue regurgitating politburo propaganda and began working to create a free press. Several of them have been arrested since 2020, including Pham Doan Trang, who was awarded the RSF Press Freedom Prize in 2019.
OFFICIAL DISCOURSE: No pluralism
“Under my rule, the Party Central Committee vows to firmly continue the fight against the expression of political pluralism” (addressing the CPV congress on 26 January 2021).