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Viral Vietnam noodle seller arrested over Salt Bae parody

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By Mattea Bubalo

BBC News

Bui Tuan Lam cookingImage source, Vivavideo

Image caption,

Noodle vendor Bui Tuan Lam was arrested after posting a video of himself theatrically preparing and seasoning a bowl of beef noodles last November

A noodle seller who parodied Turkish celebrity chef Nusret Gökçe, known as Salt Bae, has been arrested for anti-state propaganda in Vietnam.

Bui Tuan Lam, 38, posted a video last year which was widely viewed as mocking a senior government minister.

The official was filmed being handfed gold-encrusted steak by Salt Bae, whose steaks cost up to £1,500 ($1,725).

The price raised eyebrows as many live in poverty in Vietnam, a one-party state which frequently jails critics.

Bui Tuan Lam’s wife told the BBC Vietnamese service that Lam was “abducted” on Wednesday afternoon by police, who returned with him hours later with a warrant to search his home.

She said they had been mentally preparing for the arrest since her husband was summoned by police last November.

Mr Lam, who runs a beef noodle stall in the city of Danang, told the BBC at the time that he did not understand why he had been summoned, adding that police said it had “to be kept secret”.

He was arrested on Wednesday under Article 117, a broad clause which criminalises producing or disseminating information “opposing” the state.

Image source, TikTok

Image caption,

To Lam, centre, was hand fed gold-encrusted steak that costs more than his monthly wage

Police said authorities had repeatedly warned Mr Lam against posting content that insulted leaders’ honour and reputation.

Mr Lam’s self-described “Green Onion Bae” parody was posted days after General To Lam, Vietnam’s minister of public security, was filmed eating at Mr Gökçe’s pricey London restaurant.

The steak prices are not listed on its website, but according to reviews the gold-covered steak ranges from £850 to £1,500.

The now-deleted video of the minister generated outrage, sparking questions on social media with many saying the dish cost more than the minister’s monthly wage of between $600 and $800.

According to Human Right Watch’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson, Mr Lam has been associated with advocating for democracy in Vietnam over the past decade and has not been allowed to leave the country since 2014.

“Vietnamese 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 when it comes to public criticism.” said Mr Robertson.

“Mockery is a legitimate form of expression that should not be considered a crime.”

Vietnam, which used to be one of the world’s poorest countries, has experienced significant economic growth over the past 30 years, however much of the population still lives below the poverty line.

The one-party state is often criticised by rights groups for its intolerance of dissent.

In 2018, a high-profile dissident and blogger known as Mother Mushroom was released from jail and allowed to fly to live in the US. She had been sentenced to 10 years in 2017, accused of distributing propaganda against the state.

Additional reporting by the BBC’s Vietnamese Service

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