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Russian street singer with anti-Putin sign in brief legal scrape in Vietnam

Police in Vietnam denied local media reports that they arrested a Russian citizen for a public protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, saying instead that they summoned him for an expired visa.

Street performer Alex Kniazev was singing and playing guitar Monday in front of a sign he made that said “STOP WAR, STOP PUTIN, RUSSIA IS NOT PUTIN!!” at Lam Vien Square in the city of Da Lat, in Vietnam’s southern Lam Dong province.

After images of  Kniazev, a stage name, went viral on Vietnamese social media on Monday,  multiple Vietnamese media organizations reported on Tuesday that Lam Dong police arrested Kniazev because of the sign. Protests of any kind in one-party Communist Vietnam, an ally of Moscow, are rare and quickly snuffed out.

The Da Lat police, however, said they merely invited Kniazev to meet with authorities to work out visa issues, the Lam Dong Newspaper reported.

Following the meeting, Kniazev understood that he was in violation and agreed to travel to Ho Chi Minh City to renew his passport and extend his visa, the official newspaper said.

In an official statement, the Da Lat Police repudiated the reports that it arrested the Russian for the sign, and warned that people who share fake news related to Kniazev’s situation could face legal consequences, Tuoi Tre News reported.

Kniazev used the word “arrest” when he described the situation in writing to RFA’s Vietnamese Service Tuesday.

“They arrest me for 2 hours because I must wait my new visa in Saigon,” he said, using the name of Ho Chi Minh City before the communist era.

“I follow Vietnam’s rules and go to Saigon. That’s all,” he wrote.

Kniazev also said that the police told him “they do not welcome the political actions of foreigners.”

RFA reported Monday that Vietnamese government-aligned “opinion workers” who promote the Communist Party and protect its image on social media are now pushing the Russian narrative about the situation in Ukraine on Vietnam’s social media.

Vietnamese have shown support for Ukraine in various ways. Hundreds of people in Hanoi have taken part in events at the Ukrainian Embassy and fundraising events to raise money for those affected by the armed conflict.

Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.