Six years on, wife of disappeared Laos activist ‘can’t move on’

Channel New Asia: 12 December 2018

Six years of searching have brought no answers and little solace to Sombath’s 72-year-old wife, Shui-Meng Ng AFP/CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT

BANGKOK: The wife of a prominent Laos activist who vanished after being stopped at a checkpoint on the streets of Vientiane said Wednesday (Dec 12) she “can’t move on” as the mystery over his fate remains unsolved almost six years later.

The disappearance of Sombath Somphone, an award-winning environmental campaigner, drew rare international attention to the poor rights record of Laos, an authoritarian one-party state where activists work under state scrutiny.

Sombath was last seen on the night of Dec 15, 2012, with CCTV cameras capturing the moment when police pulled him over at a checkpoint in the Laos capital. He was shown entering a separate truck with two other men and driven off.

His case cast a dark cloud over civil society in Laos and highlighted dangers faced by activists, journalists and human rights defenders in Southeast Asia who risk being targeted with impunity.

But six years of searching have brought no answers and little solace to Sombath’s 72-year-old wife, Shui-Meng Ng.

“When the person who’s so dear to you has gone missing, the only thing the family member can do … is to continue to make the disappeared visible,” she said Wednesday during a panel discussion in Bangkok about Sombath’s disappearance.

“You can’t move on because the person who is most important in your life has been so unjustly taken from you.”

Laos government officials have denied any connection to the case, which was raised during a review of the country’s rights record at the UN Human Rights commmittee in Geneva in July.

Rights groups accuse local authorities of failing to carry out even the most cursory of investigations and withholding information.

Ng, a Singaporean citizen based in Laos, said she hoped to speak “for all those silenced victims” of forced disappearances.

“My favorite memory with him was to go home each day and we would have dinner together and talk about the issues of our day,” she said.

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