A Vietnamese noodle vendor was arrested on Wednesday over a viral video that was widely viewed as mocking a senior government official in Vietnam.
Bui Tuan Lam, also known as “Onion Leaf Bae,” was accused of anti-state propaganda for his online content, which police said distorted the policies of Vietnam’s ruling party.
Lam, 38, runs a beef noodle stall in the city of Da Nang in the Hai Chau district. He was summoned by the police in 2021 after he went viral over a video of himself imitating celebrity chef Nusret Gökçe, also known as “Salt Bae,” who served an expensive steak to a Vietnamese government official.
The original video of the minister prompted netizens to question how government employees are able to afford luxuries — such as the steak, which sells for up to $2,000 — with their modest salaries.
Lam previously denied mocking the minister. Authorities warned him against insulting Vietnamese leaders by regularly posting videos on social media that “distort the guidelines and policies of the party and state and promoting activities against the party and state of Vietnam.”
“Lam is also a member of many ‘civil society organizations,’ which are in fact anti-state groups,” the police added in a statement.
On Wednesday, he was reportedly charged for violating Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, which prohibits “creating, storing, and disseminating materials and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
The nation has been widely criticized for controlling online dissent. On Thursday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said Lam should be released immediately.
“Authorities regularly define any comment they don’t like as ‘propaganda against the state,’ making Vietnam one of the most thin-skinned governments in the region,” Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted.
“Mockery is a legitimate form of expression that should not be considered a crime,” he added. “Vietnam should abolish rights-abusing article 117 of the penal code, and immediately free Bui Tuan Lam and others locked up for simply expressing views the communist party dislikes.”