Vietnam arrests famous noodle vendor for 'anti-state' acts

Bui Tuan Lam is famous over a viral video that was widely viewed as mocking a top government official. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM PETER LAM BUI/FACEBOOK

HANOI - A noodle seller famous in Vietnam over a viral video that was widely viewed as mocking a top government official has been arrested, police said, the latest in a crackdown on critics of the country's communist rulers.

Mr Bui Tuan Lam, 38, who runs a beef noodle stall in the city of Danang, is accused of anti-state propaganda in posting online content that distorted guidelines and policies of the ruling party, police said in a statement late on Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear which incident Mr Lam was arrested over.

In 2021, he was summoned by police for filming himself imitating the flamboyant moves of celebrity chef Nusret Gokce, or "Salt Bae", days after Vietnam's powerful minister of public security was caught on camera eating gold-encrusted steak at the Turkish chef's London restaurant.

"Lam is also a member of many 'civil society organisations', which are in fact anti-state groups," said the police statement, adding authorities had repeatedly warned him against content that insulted leaders, their honour and reputation.

When summoned, Mr Lam had denied mocking the minister over the steak, which sells for up to US$2,000 (S$2,800).

Calls to Mr Lam's phone on Thursday went unanswered.

Vietnam has been widely criticised for its tough moves to curb online dissent as public appetite for the Internet soars and Web users turn to blogs to read about issues that state-controlled media avoids.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch on Thursday said police should immediately release Mr Lam and stop arresting people for expressing their views.

"The 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," said Mr Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

"Mockery is a legitimate form of expression that should not be considered a crime." REUTERS

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.