The Ministry of Public Security has no sense of humor.
Bui Tuan Lam became famous in November 2021 for making a parody video of himself imitating the celebrity chef known as Salt Bae, who days before had gone viral in Vietnam after spreading salt over a US$2,000 gold-encrusted steak and feeding it to Vietnam’s public security minister, To Lam. In his video, Bui Tuan Lam replaces the gold encrusted steak with everyday sliced pork, green onions, and noodle soup. This video also went viral, earning Bui Tuan Lam the moniker “Green Onion Bae”, at the minister’s expense.
The minister’s men were quick to retaliate. Police harassed and threatened Bui Tuan Lam, 39, placed him under intrusive surveillance, summoned, and interrogated him, and pressured him to close his sidewalk noodle soup shop. In September 2022, the long-time rights activist was arrested on bogus charges of “propaganda against the state.”
Police kept him incommunicado for more than seven months, with the prosecutors claiming that he didn’t want legal counsel. When Bui Tuan Lam’s wife, Le Thanh Lam, successfully challenged this, the authorities retaliated by refusing to let her attend her husband’s May 25 trial in Da Nang. She still showed up outside the court, where police apprehended, manhandled, and dragged her in the street, injuring her legs. She said that police detained her for several hours, “searched every inch on my body” and “treated me as if I were no longer human.” They released her that evening, long after the trial had finished.
The debacle continued inside the court. The judge ordered a defense lawyer, Ngo Anh Tuan, removed from the courtroom before he could even finish his argument.
There was little suspense whether Bui Tuan Lam would be convicted on the politically motivated charges. The provincial court sentenced him to five and a half years in prison, plus four years’ probation, severely restricting his freedom of movement long after he completes his prison term.
Minister To Lam got his revenge by muzzling a critic, but that won’t salvage his reputation. Vietnamese only need to be reminded of his lavishing thousands of dollars on a steak while ordinary people struggled amidst the Covid-19 economic downturn and rampant inflation.
The cruel and outrageous sentence against Bui Tuan Lam and his wife’s mistreatment will only amplify the Vietnamese government’s unrestrained abuses.