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Vietnam’s Catholic activist jailed for anti-state videos

Peter Lam, who always wears a rosary, imitated the famous Turkish chef feeding a Vietnamese minister a gold-encrusted steak
Peter Bui Tuan Lam (wearing a rosary) and other activists pose for a photo session before his arrest in 2022

Peter Bui Tuan Lam (wearing a rosary) and other activists pose for a photo session before his arrest in 2022. (Photo: Le Thanh Lam)


Published: May 25, 2023 10:34 AM GMT
Updated: May 25, 2023 12:41 PM GMT

A Catholic activist, who imitated a famous Turkish chef feeding a powerful Vietnamese minister a gold-encrusted steak two years ago, has been imprisoned for anti-state activities.

The state-owned Da Nang newspaper reported that the People's Court in Da Nang on May 25 sentenced Peter Bui Tuan Lam to five and a half years in jail for making and spreading online materials against the Communist government in the Southeast Asian nation. 

Lam was also given four years of probation following his sentence.

The newspaper said Lam, 39, was convicted of posting 19 writings and 25 video clips with contents intended to defame the state.

Lam, who ran a beef noodle shop in the central city of Da Nang, in a video imitated famed Turkish chef Nusret Gokce or "Salt Bae" feeding Vietnam’s public security minister with a gold leaf-encrusted steak at his London restaurant.

Lam's video sparked outrage in the country.

Le Quoc Quan, a human rights activist, said it is believed that Lam was sentenced for a clip lampooning a powerful security official though the satirical video was not mentioned in the indictment report.

Lam’s videos showed that he expressed his feelings and concerns about people’s poverty and unfair treatment and officials’ power abuse and corruption, Quan said.

Lam was exercising his freedom of expression which is "a fundamental human right enshrined in the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Vietnam's constitution,” Quan said.

If what Lam said was offensive to the minister, the politician can sue him, Quan opined. 

Lam’s wife, Le Thi Thanh Lam, said she and her brothers were not allowed to attend Lam's trial and were detained.

Other activists in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City were also prevented from attending. 

Thanh Lam said before the trial she sent clothes and a rosary to her husband at his request. Lam wears a rosary around his neck to mark his Christian identity. 

“I pray to God to follow him on his way and support him,” Thanh Lam said.

Before his arrest in 2022, the father of three was active in charity activities led by the local church.

He used to offer free beef noodles to people in need and come to the aid of prisoners of conscience.

Lawyer Ngo Anh Tuan, one of the two lawyers defending Lam in the court, said the defendant admitted to his activities but rejected the charges.

Tuan asked local people to have a fair view of Lam. It is activists who can “make this country better in the future” and the price they have to pay for it “cannot be measured by money," he said.

Montse Ferrer, Amnesty International interim deputy regional director for research, has asked the government to “drop those trumped-up charges and immediately and unconditionally release Lam.”

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