The Vietnamese noodle vendor dubbed “Onion Leaf Bae” has been sentenced to five and a half years in prison for mocking a senior government official of Vietnam’s ruling party.
Bui Tuan Lam, 39, was accused of anti-state propaganda after he went viral in 2021 for a video he posted online in which he mimicked the trademark gestures of celebrity chef Nusret Gökçe, also known as “Salt Bae,” who served an expensive steak to Minister of Public Security To Lam.
The original video of the Lam being served by Gökçe prompted netizens to question how government employees are able to afford luxuries with their modest salaries.
In September 2022, Lam was gagged and arrested by the police for allegedly violating Article 117 of the country’s Penal Code, which prohibits “creating, storing, and disseminating materials and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
On Thursday, a court found Lam guilty of anti-state propaganda after a one-day trial.
According to the Danang police department, Lam’s indictment said he posted 19 articles and 25 videos on social media to “distort and smear the state.” He was sentenced to five and a half years in prison and must serve four years of probation after his release.
Lam was reportedly denied access to a lawyer until two weeks before his trial.
On Monday, his wife, Le Thi Thanh, received a handwritten letter from Lam.
She told BBC:
In a letter my husband wrote in January, he said that he would not plead guilty as he believed in what he was fighting for. No matter how many years the court will sentence him to, I completely object to it because my husband is not guilty of anything. That he is being imprisoned, for a day, a year or 10 years, is a crime.
Le Thi Thanh was not allowed to attend her husband’s trial.
Lam has reportedly been a political activist for nearly 10 years and has had his passport confiscated since 2014.
The ruling has prompted activists to speak up against the Vietnamese government, urging authorities to drop the charges against Lam.
“The list of posts and videos listed as ‘evidence’ of Bui Tuan Lam’s ‘crimes’ shows the extreme lengths to which the Vietnamese go to block any sort of online criticism of the government. For the Vietnamese leadership, even songs are a threat to their monopoly of power,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, according to CNN.