Activist known as ‘Onion Leaf Bae’ kept from meeting lawyer

Online video showed the noodle vendor mocking a top government official.
By RFA Vietnamese
2023.04.27
Activist known as ‘Onion Leaf Bae’ kept from meeting lawyer Bui Tuan Lam and his beef noodle stall in front of his home in Danang City, Vietnam.
Credit: Lê Thanh Lâm Facebook

The defense lawyer for ‘Onion Leaf Bae,” an activist whose online video mimicked a Turkish chef in apparent mockery of a senior government official, said he was kept from seeing his client this week.

Bui Tuan Lam, who runs a beef noodle stall in Danang, achieved some notoriety in 2021 when a video that went viral showing him imitating the Turkish chef known as Salt Bae. 

The video was widely seen as a mockery of Vietnam’s minister of public security, To Lam, who was caught on film being hand-fed one of Salt Bae’s gold-encrusted steaks – by the chef himself – at a cost of 1,450 pounds (U.S.$1,975). 

Critics wondered how the official could afford the extravagant meal on a monthly salary of $660.

In Bui’s video clip, he refers to himself as “Onion Leaf Bae” and dramatically sprinkles spring onions into a bowl of soup at his noodle stand, mimicking the signature move of the celebrity chef.

Bui was later summoned by Danang police for questioning and was arrested in September 2022. He has since been charged for violating Article 117 of the country’s Penal Code, frequently used by authorities to restrict freedom of expression and opinions deemed critical of the government.

The Danang People’s Court on Monday approved Le Dinh Viet’s registration to be Bui Tuan Lam’s lawyer for the upcoming first-instance trial. 

Viet said he then went to Danang Police’s detention facility where Bui Tuan Lam was being held, but staff didn’t allow him to see his client, saying the judge hadn’t had time to review the recently completed investigation report. 

Monitoring meetings?

He said he was told to “advise the court of the timing” of any proposed meetings with the defendant in the future so that the court could arrange for the meeting to be monitored.

The 2015 Criminal Procedure Code and the 2015 Law on Temporary Custody and Detention doesn’t have any provisions requiring prosecuting agencies to monitor meetings between defense lawyers and their clients, Viet said.

But an interagency circular from 2018 and another circular issued in 2019 by the Ministry of Public Security said prosecuting agencies can assign staff members to supervise meetings between defense lawyers and their clients if needed, he said.

Over the past 10 years of professional practice, Viet has participated in four cases related to national security. Bui’s case was the first time he was prevented from seeing a client, he said.

According to Danang People’s Procuracy’s indictment, Bui posted 19 articles on his Facebook account and 25 videos and articles on his YouTube account from April 17, 2020, to July 26, 2022. The articles and videos included content “distorting, defaming people’s government” and “fabricating and causing confusion among people.”

The link to the Facebook account alleged in the indictment to have contained the 19 articles no longer functions. There are only three videos currently on the YouTube channel allegedly used by the activist – all three were posted recently. The channel doesn’t contain the videos and posts listed in the indictment.

If convicted, Bui could receive a prison term of five to 12 years.

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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