A Vietnamese noodle seller made famous over a viral video that was viewed as mocking a senior government official has been arrested, police in Vietnam said, the latest in a crackdown on critics of the country’s Communist rulers.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that police should “immediately free” Bui Tuan Lam, 38, who runs a beef noodle stall in the city of Da Nang.
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Lam was accused of anti-state propaganda for posting online content that police said in a statement on Wednesday had distorted guidelines and the policies of Vietnam’s ruling party.
It was not immediately clear which incident Lam was arrested for.
In 2021, the noodle seller was summoned by police for filming himself imitating the flamboyant cooking gestures of celebrity Turkish chef Nusret Gökçe, or “Salt Bae”, days after Vietnam’s powerful minister of public security was caught on camera eating gold-encrusted steak at the chef’s restaurant in London.
A video of the minister and his entourage being served the Golden Tomahawk steak – which sells for up to $2,000 – went viral in Vietnam, promoting questions on social media as to how government employees on modest official salaries could afford such luxuries.
When summoned by police last year, Lam had denied mocking the minister over the steak.
The police said in the statement that authorities had repeatedly warned Lam against posting content that insulted leaders, their honour and reputation.
“Lam is also a member of many ‘civil society organisations’, which are, in fact, anti-state groups,” the police added
Calls to Lam’s phone on Thursday went unanswered.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said Lam’s arrest showed Vietnam’s ruling party to be “one of the most thin-skinned governments in the region when it comes to public criticism”.
“A noodle seller mocking the Minister’s ridiculously expensive steak on a gov’t trip is funny, not criminal,” Robertson said on Twitter.
“Mockery is a legitimate form of expression that should not be considered a crime.”
“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" says @hrw as noodle seller Bui Tuan Lam is hauled away by authorities. pic.twitter.com/teMsth9Oq9
— Phil Robertson (@Reaproy) September 8, 2022