Vietnam noodle vendor imprisoned for five years in parody of Salt Bae

A Vietnamese noodle vendor who parodied one of the country's most prominent ministers was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for anti-state propaganda.

In 2021, Bui Tuan Lam rose to fame after posting a video in which he imitated the signature gestures of the upscale London restaurateur Salt Bae. In a previous Salt Bae video, a minister was captured consuming a steak covered in gold leaf, causing a scandal. The Vietnamese administration has a zero-tolerance policy for dissent.

The trial and sentencing of the 39-year-old in a Danang court lasted only one day. After his release, he must serve four years of probation, his attorney confirmed to sources. In his video, Bui Tuan Lam sprinkled green onions on his noodle soups in imitation of Nusret Gokce, a Turkish celebrity chef who frequently sprinkles salt theatrically on steak.

Previously, footage of Vietnam's Minister of Public Security, To Lam, eating a $2,000 (£1,600) sirloin at the chef's restaurant prompted online outrage. After paying a visit to Karl Marx's grave in London, a senior communist official in Vietnam ate a dish that cost more than his monthly salary. Many Vietnamese found this incongruous.

During that time, the police questioned Bui Tuan Lam and shut down his popular noodle stand, which had only been open for a few days. A political activist for nearly a decade, Bui Tuan Lam lost his employment in Ho Chi Minh City and was forced to sell noodles in his hometown of Danang. Since 2014, when his passport was confiscated, he has been unable to exit Vietnam. 

The indictment accused him of publishing multiple videos on social media which "affected the people's trust in the state's leadership." While the infamous Salt Bae parody was not mentioned, it is widely believed that the humiliation it caused the Vietnamese government was the reason for his arrest. Despite the fact that the charges are based on past Facebook posts, Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch says no one should be deceived.

The Ministry of Public Security is pursuing vengeance against Bui Tuan Lam for having the audacity to make fun of their steak-eating minister To Lam. The video of a green onion that went viral and delighted Vietnamese citizens demonstrated once again the inventiveness of a democracy movement that the government is attempting to extinguish with brute force and false convictions.

Two weeks prior to his trial, Bui Tuan Lam was denied access to an attorney while incarcerated. Le Thi Thanh Lam, his wife, was not permitted to attend. She told the sources that since his detention, she and their three daughters have been permitted to see him only once for 10 minutes.

Three days ago, Le Thi Thanh Lam received a phone call from an unknown individual requesting to deliver a letter from her spouse. He had written notes to her on fragments of paper and discarded them in the hopes that someone would find them and deliver them to her.

Her husband wrote in the letter that he would not plead guilty because he believed in the cause he was fighting for. She told sources that he exhorted them to be courageous and said it would be a miracle if she received the pieces of paper.