Popular Vietnamese Chef Arrested By Police After Posting Critical Video

Popular Vietnamese Chef Arrested By Police After Posting Critical Video

Human Rights Watch described the chef’s remarks as a “form of expression” and called for his immediate release.

Bui Tuan Lam, a Vietnamese noodle vendor who briefly gained nationwide fame after posting a viral video critical of a senior Communist Party official, was arrested on Thursday and charged with creating “anti-state propaganda,” according to local police. It marks the most recent incident in a series of arrests and detentions of Vietnamese citizens critical of the country’s one-party state.

The arrest prompted an international outcry, and Human Rights Watch advised the police to “immediately free” Lam, noting that his words and videos should have been considered free expression.

Prior to his arrest, Lam had posted a series of videos satirizing political events in Vietnam over the span of several years—some of which had previously landed him in trouble with the country’s authorities. In 2021, days after a high-ranking Vietnamese minister was filmed eating a $2,000 meal at the expensive London restaurant of Turkish celebrity chef Nusret Gokce, or “Salt Bae,” Lam filmed himself copying the celebrity chef’s signature cooking gesture, prompting police to summon and question him. In his statements to Vietnamese authorities at the time, Lam claimed that he had not intended to mock the minister, and he was ultimately released without charge. 

The restaurant incident led to a nationwide controversy in Vietnam, in which the average gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is only $2,500. After the video was released, many citizens publicly questioned how functionaries with modest salaries could afford to purchase luxury items and speculated that the official in question had benefited from corruption.

In the statement regarding Lam’s most recent arrest, police noted that they had repeatedly warned the chef in the past against posting “insulting” content towards the country’s leaders. The statement also noted Lam’s membership in “many ‘civil society organizations,’” which it alleged were “in fact anti-state groups.”

Phil Robertson, the Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, attributed Lam’s arrest to the sensitive nature of the Vietnamese government.

“[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,” he said. 

However, Robertson defended Lam by referencing Vietnam’s constitution, which in theory guarantees the right to freedom of speech. “A noodle seller mocking the Minister’s ridiculously expensive steak on a [government] trip is funny, not criminal,” he said. “Mockery is a legitimate form of expression that should not be considered a crime.”

Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters.