Noodle Vendor in Vietnam Jailed For Making Fun of Minister Eating Gold Encrusted Steak

Vietnam is one of the last few socialist republics remaining in the world. As it is relatively open to the world, especially in the tourism sector, many of us tend to forget that it is ruled by a Communist Party.

This means that there may be certain limitations against criticising the country’s top leaders.

One noodle vendor in Vietnam may have forgotten this when he carried a joke about a top government official too far.

The result? A jail term of five and a half years.

Here is the story.

Noodle Vendor Sentenced to Jail for Mocking Top Government Official in Vietnam

Earlier this week, a Vietnamese noodle vendor was sentenced to five and a half years imprisonment for allegedly creating a parody video which mocked a Vietnamese top government official eating a gold-covered steak. He was found guilty of anti-state propaganda after a one-day trial.

The noodle vendor in question is Bui Tuan Lam, a 39-year-old man from Danang.

The Danang police department said that the conviction was due to the noodle vendor “making, storing, distributing, or disseminating information, documents, and items against the state”, reports AsiaOne.

In the parody video posted in 2021, the noodle vendor can be seen flamboyantly sprinkling what looks like green onions into a bowl of noodle soup. He also ceremoniously slices some meat pieces for the noodle soup.

The video went viral soon after it was posted.

Interestingly enough, the noodle vendor may have seen this outcome coming as he had previously clarified in 2021 that his video was “for fun and for advertising” his noodle shop after his video attracted widespread attention.

The noodle vendor’s wife also stood up for him, telling The New York Times in a 2021 interview that she did not see how her husband committed “any crime or wrongdoing”, neither did he infringe upon anyone’s interests. She was adamant that he was “only exercising freedom of speech and other rights”, which were “clearly stated in the Constitution and laws of Vietnam”.

We guess the court didn’t buy that story.

Top Government Official Ate Expensive Gold Encrusted Steak in London

For those who thought the noodle vendor’s antics sounded familiar, you are probably thinking of what the chef Nusret Gokce, is known for. Chef Gokce is also known as “Salt Bae” on the internet.

Salt Bae is famous for his flamboyant way of sprinkling salt, which involves contorting your arm into a beak shape where the salt hits the back of your forearm while being sprinkled lavishly onto the food.

Gokce is also often seen in dark sunglasses and a slicked-back hairdo.

Apart from his iconic hand action when sprinkling salt and his fashion style, Gokce is also known for slicing meat and feeding guests meat off a knife.

Back in 2021, Gokce posted a video of himself giving Vietnam’s Minister of Public Security, To Lam, the VIP treatment.

The minister had apparently ordered the gold leaf steak at Gokce’s London restaurant, where a steak may cost up to 1,960 pounds (approximately S$3,267).

Gokce was seen hand-feeding the government official the steak, which was covered in gold. The video was later deleted.

Understandably, many people were enraged upon seeing the video as the steak was so pricey that it was roughly equivalent to what an average Vietnamese may make in a year. Others felt that it was embarrassing for a top official to be seen in such a video.

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Some Find That This Is a Stifling of Criticism of the Vietnamese Communist Party

In the wake of the noodle vendor’s conviction and sentence, there has been criticism against the fairness of the charge.

AsiaOne reports that Phil Robertson, a deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, has voiced out that the government in Vietnam should not prosecute the noodle vendor (and others) who want to criticise the ruling party.

Robertson argues that the posts and videos which were listed as “evidence” against the noodle vendor show that the Vietnamese government “goes to extreme lengths” to “block any sort of online criticism of the government”.

During the trial, the Danang police cited 19 articles and 25 videos on social media to argue that the noodle vendor had an intention to “distort and smear the state”.

Perhaps in a democratic nation, this would merely be considered a joke and brushed off. Or it could be seen as a fair criticism of the government, which does not warrant legal consequences.

Robertson also frowns upon the stronghold of the government, saying that “even songs are a threat” to the Vietnamese leadership, which could be why they punished the noodle vendor so harshly this time round.

Then again, some might find the punishment for the noodle vendor to be lenient in comparison to what a man who insulted the Thai monarchy on Facebook was dished.

The Thai man in question was sentenced to 35 years of jail time for the Facebook posts he made. He was convicted by the Bangkok military court in 2017 for ten counts of lese-majesty for posting photos and videos of the royal family on a Facebook account.

He was initially sentenced to seven years of jail for each count of lese-majesty, but leniency was shown to him in the form of slashing his sentence in half because he confessed.

What do you think about this situation? Was the noodle vendor’s actions deserving of such harsh punishment, or was it crossing the line?