A Vietnamese Activist Mocked a Government Official’s Gold-Crusted Steak and Got 5 Years in Jail

Parody videos are relatively common in the United States, but in some other countries they can land their maker in jail.

That’s what just happened in Vietnam, where an activist was sentenced to more than five years in prison for mocking an official who had chowed down on a gold-encrusted steak, The New York Times reported on Friday. (Vietnam is under Communist Party rule and is officially designated a socialist republic.) Somehow, the story also involves the internet personality Salt Bae.

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Two years ago, General To Lam, who oversees Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, traveled to Britain for a climate-change summit. While he was in London, he stopped at Salt Bae’s restaurant in the city. In a TikTok video that Salt Bae himself posted—and later deleted—the chef delivers two gold tomahawk steaks to General Lam’s table, then feeds the official a bite from the tip of a carving knife. (You can watch him serve a similar steak to Conor McGregor below.)

This video didn’t sit so well with Bui Tuan Lam, an activist who also owns a noodle stall in Danang, Vietnam. (The Times noted that General Lam’s meal cost about what the average Vietnamese citizen earns in a year.) He filmed a parody video in which he mimics Salt Bae’s style while slicing meat and putting green onions into a bowl of noodles. “The video I made was for fun and for advertising my beef noodle shop,” he said back in November 2021.

On Thursday, though, Lam was convicted of conducting propaganda against the state, leading to his five-year prison sentence. The authorities said he was guilty of “making, storing, distributing or disseminating” anti-state information and materials, the Times wrote. Lam has denied the charges, and one of his lawyers told the newspaper that the judge had forced him to leave the proceedings before he could finish presenting his case. (The judge declined to comment to The New York Times.)

“I do not see how my husband committed any crime or wrongdoing, or infringed upon anyone’s interests,” Lam’s wife told the Times. “He is only exercising freedom of speech and other rights that are clearly stated in the Constitution and laws of Vietnam.”

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