The Vietnamese noodle vendor dubbed “Onion Leaf Bae” was gagged by the police during his arrest on Wednesday, according to his wife.
Lam is a 38-year-old former activist who runs a beef noodle stall in the city of Da Nang in the Hai Chau district. He was accused of anti-state propaganda for his online content, including a video of himself imitating celebrity chef Nusret Gökçe, also known as “Salt Bae,” who served an expensive steak to a Vietnamese government official.
He was apprehended in his family home, where hundreds of officers reportedly surrounded the area prior to his arrest, according to his wife Le Than Lam.
“It happened at about 7 p.m. when all of our family members were at home. At first, they pulled at the door trying to gain entry. We said that they had to show us a search warrant,” Le Than Lam told Radio Free Asia.
“They said they would carry out a search first and provide us with the warrant later, but we refused to let them in. They assaulted Lam’s younger brothers, Minh and Tuan, grabbing their necks, arms and legs, then arrested them both and escorted them to the police station,” Le added.
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The police officers allegedly destroyed three security cameras and confiscated three T-shirts with the phrase “Human rights should be respected in Vietnam” printed on them, according to Le.
As Lam verbally protested his arrest, officers allegedly covered his mouth with their hands to silence him. Le claimed that officers forced Lam into a police vehicle and gagged him with a dirty towel used to wipe noodle tables.
“They did not allow him to talk with others. They took him inside but he shouted loudly ‘Freedom for Vietnam!’ and sang songs [in protest],” she said.
According to the Vietnamese government, Lam violated Article 117 of the country’s Penal Code, which prohibits “creating, storing, and disseminating materials and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
“Lam is also a member of many ‘civil society organizations,’ which are in fact anti-state groups,” the police previously said in a statement.
Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, called Vietnam “one of the most thin-skinned governments when it comes to public criticism.”
“Mockery is a legitimate form of expression that should not be considered a crime. A noodle seller mocking the Minister’s ridiculously expensive steak on a government trip is funny, not criminal,” he tweeted on Thursday. “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.”