Rights group demands Laos release detained activists

Turkish Weekly: 07 June 2016, By Max Constant

Rights groups have called on Laos to immediately release three young Laotians arrested and detained since March on charges of criticizing the country’s communist government.

The trio is accused of participating in a demonstration last December in front of the Laos embassy in Thailand, and criticizing the “regime” on Facebook.

“The government’s systematic repression of all forms of peaceful dissent underscores the immense gap between Vientiane’s promises to the international community and its abusive behavior at home,” Karim Lahidji, president of the Paris-based International Federation of human rights, said Monday in a joint statement with the Laos movement for human rights.

“Laos authorities must immediately and unconditionally release three individuals who have been arbitrarily arrested and detained incommunicado for criticizing the government,” he added.

Lodkham Thammavong, a 30-year-old domestic worker, Somphone Phimmasone, a 29-year-old security guard, and delivery man Soukan Chaithad, 33, were shown May 27 on a Laos state security TV channel in what appeared to be a pre-recorded broadcast admitting that they recognized their mistake of “getting involved with a group that protested against the country’s policies”.

The trio was all working in Bangkok until the end of 2015.

“We have been deceived by ill-faith people based overseas, who pushed us to commit wrongdoings,” said Phimmasone.

“From now on, I will improve myself, change my ideas, not go against the government and not be a traitor to the country,” he added, as four uniformed security officers and two plainclothes policemen stood between him and his two companions.

According to Ounkeo Souksavanh, a Washington-based journalist for Radio Free Asia, Phimmasone had posted numerous comments and pictures critical of the regime at the end of 2015.

“He challenged the Laos authorities on Facebook in video and images,” Souksavanh told Anadolu Agency on Monday.

“They had criticized on Facebook the government, the Vietnamese living in Laos, the Chinese in Laos, corruption and also evoked land rights issues,” Vanida S. Thephsouvanh, Paris-based president of the Laos human rights movement, told Anadolu Agency last week.

Thammavong, Phimmasone and Chaithad also joined an anti-government demonstration in front of the Lao embassy in Bangkok on Dec. 4, 2015, the 40th anniversary of the communist victory in Laos.

During the May 27 “televised confession” — re-broadcast over three days — the three were shown holding pictures showing themselves in the demonstration.

They were arrested in March after they went back to Laos, apparently unaware that Laos authorities had followed their activities closely.

“It is extremely troubling that Lodkham, Somphone and Soukan are likely to face years of imprisonment in Laos’ terrifying jails because they told the truth about the appalling human rights situation and the lack of governance in the country,” said Thephsouvanh in the joint statement.

Since communists took over the country in December 1975, Laos has had a long record of human abuses.

Numerous enforced disappearances have occurred, one of the most recent being the disappearance of prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone.

Somphone was never seen again after he was arrested by police on a Vientiane road in Dec. 15, 2012.

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