HANOI: A Vietnam court has jailed a noodle seller who went viral for impersonating Salt Bae, after the celebrity chef served a gold-leaf steak to a powerful official, his lawyer said.
In 2021, Peter Lam Bui posted a parody video impersonating Salt Bae – Turkish chef Nusret Gokce who parlayed his meme stardom into high-end eateries – by sprinkling herbs on noodle soup, and calling himself “Green Onion Bae”.
But that video came after a clip of a high-ranking Vietnamese official in London tucking into a steak at Gokce’s Knightsbridge venue went viral in Vietnam.
Lam was in trouble within days of uploading his video and filmed a police visit to his home in the central city of Danang.
On Thursday, the 39-year-old former activist was convicted of spreading anti-state propaganda by a court in Danang, lawyer Le Dinh Viet told AFP.
“They charged the defendant based on posts and video clips Lam had on his accounts on social media platforms,” Viet said.
There was nothing about the Salt Bae clip, he added.
Lam denied the charges and said he had only “expressed his personal viewpoint and exercised his right to freedom of speech”.
He was also sentenced to four years probation.
Lam’s parody video came after To Lam, Vietnam’s minister of public security – whose agency monitors dissent and surveils activists – was filmed eating at Gokce’s luxury Nusr-Et Steakhouse.
The restaurant serves up steaks wrapped in edible 24-carat gold leaf, reportedly costing more than US$1,000, and the video sparked anger over the decadence on display while Vietnam struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the same trip to London, To Lam also visited the grave of Karl Marx, the ideological father of communism.
Vietnam has strict curbs on freedom of expression and the government moves swiftly to stamp out dissent and arrest critics, especially those who find an audience online. Independent media is banned.
To Lam, a member of the country’s 16-strong politburo, has been public security minister since 2016 and has taken a hard line on human rights movements in the communist nation.
In April, Vietnam imprisoned Nguyen Lan Thang, a prominent journalist who documented protests and human rights violations, for six years.
A year earlier, high-profile dissident journalist Pham Doan Trang was given nine years behind bars.
They were all jailed on the same anti-state charge.