Vietnam activist ‘Onion Bae’ loses appeal against 5½ year sentence

Bui Tuan Lam was convicted under the controversial Article 117.
By RFA Vietnamese
2023.08.30
Vietnam activist ‘Onion Bae’ loses appeal against 5½ year sentence Bui Tuan Lam and his beef noodle stall in front of his home in Danang, Vietnam.
Facebook: Le Thanh Lam

A court in Vietnam on Wednesday upheld the five and a half year prison sentence for activist Bui Tuan Lam, known as “Onion Bae,” his wife Le Than Lam told Radio Free Asia.

On May 25, Bui was convicted of propaganda under Article 117 of the country’s Penal Code, after being found guilty of criticizing the government online.

Le told RFA Vietnamese she was not allowed to attend Wednesday’s three-hour hearing at the Higher People’s Court in Danang. but his lawyer Le Dinh Viet was permitted to represent him there.

However, the lawyer was not allowed to meet his client on Tuesday at the detention center where Bui is being held so they were unable to prepare for the appeal.

Le Than Lam said hundreds of policemen in uniform and plain clothes were deployed outside the court, filming her and others who had gathered there to wait for the outcome. She told RFA everyone stayed calm when the appeal was rejected, so the police had no reason to arrest them.

Bui, 39, ran a beef noodle stall in Danang. He achieved notoriety in 2021 after posting an online video mimicking the Turkish celebrity chef Nusret Gökçe, known as “Salt Bae.”

The video, which went viral on social media, was seen as poking fun at To Lam, Vietnam’s minister of public security. To was caught on film being hand-fed a GBP1,450 (U.S.$1,830) gold-encrusted steak by Salt Bae at his London restaurant. 

In Bui’s video clip, he dramatically sprinkles spring onions into a bowl of soup, mimicking the signature move of the celebrity chef.

Bui was summoned by Danang police for questioning and arrested and charged in September 2022.

Danang People’s Procuracy claimed Bui posted articles on Facebook and YouTube, including content that was “distorting, defaming people’s government” and “fabricating and causing confusion among people.”

Article 117 of the country’s Penal Code criminalizes “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” It is frequently used by authorities to restrict freedom of expression and opinions deemed critical of the government.

On Tuesday, a court upheld the eight-year jail sentence of democracy activist Tran Van Bang, who was also convicted under Article 117.

He is among six activists and journalists who have been convicted on charges of anti-state propaganda by the Vietnamese government since January.

Vietnam has convicted at least 60 people under Article 117, according to human rights groups.

Translated by RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Mike Firn and Taejun Kang.

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