A recently introduced law regulating civil society organizations (CSOs) in Laos has further restricted their work, according to sources in the sector, who said groups now face lengthy delays in funding, while others are being forced to operate as small businesses or shut down completely.
Its score of 54 places it in the category of “mostly unfree.” Other categories include free, mostly free, moderately free and repressed. Laos score has remained quite stable over the ten year history of the index.
The index combines indicators of Rule of Law, Government Size, Regulatory Efficiency, and Open Markets. Hong Kong tops the list, and North Korean is at the bottom.
Rankings and scores of neighbouring countries include:
Thailand: 55th (66.2)
Cambodia: 94th (59.5)
China: 111th (57.4)
Myanmar: 146th (52.5)
Vietnam: 147 (52.4)
In part, the Heritage Foundation states:
The Laotian economy has shown notable resilience, growing at an average annual rate of more than 7 percent over the past five years. Laos continues to integrate more fully into the system of global trade and investment. The trade regime has become more transparent, and there has been progress in improving the management of public finances.
Substantial challenges remain, particularly in implementing deeper institutional and systemic reforms that are critical to advancing economic freedom. Weak property rights, pervasive corruption, and burdensome bureaucracy, exacerbated by lingering government interference and regulatory controls, continue to reduce the dynamism of investment flows and overall economic efficiency.
On the fifth anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone, we, the undersigned organizations, express outrage at the Lao government’s failure to independently, impartially, effectively, and transparently investigate Sombath’s disappearance, reveal his whereabouts, and return him to his family.
The Lao government’s continued silence and obfuscation of the facts around Sombath’s enforced disappearance have subjected his family to five years of fear and uncertainty over his fate and whereabouts, which remain unknown to this day.
Sombath was last seen at a police checkpoint on a busy street of the Lao capital, Vientiane, on the evening of 15 December 2012. His abduction was captured on a CCTV camera near the police checkpoint. The footage strongly suggests that police stopped Sombath’s vehicle and, within minutes, unknown individuals forced him into another vehicle and drove him away in the presence of police officers. CCTV footage also appears to show an unknown individual driving Sombath’s vehicle away from the city center before returning sometime later. Continue reading “Five years on, 122 organizations worldwide demand to know: “Where is Sombath?””
The development suggests that more of the same is at work in this realm in the Southeast Asian state.
Five years after Lao activist Sombath Somphone disappeared after being snatched off the streets of Vientiane by police, rights concerns in the tiny, landlocked Southeast Asian state still remain significant and unresolved.
Last year’s change in government, with a new prime minister in charge of the one-party state, had also raised hopes that this type of atrocious and anachronistic behavior might finally have come to an end with Thongloun Sisoulith touted as a more moderate leader.
But those hopes are proving about as realistic as finding Somphone alive.
Perhaps even more disappointing, as noted by Human Rights Watch, is that while donor support for the development of Lao civil society organizations has increased significantly, so too have government restrictions.
As donors, diplomats and development partners gather for this year’s Roundtable Implementation Meeting in Pakse, will they take time to consider those who were arrested or disappeared in this same city in November 2000 and October 2001, simply for expressing their views?
Will they recall the students who met similar fates earlier in Vientiane in October, 1999?
Will they remember Sombath Somphone or Sompawn Khantisouk, who have been enforcibly disappeared, or their families, who continue to suffer without knowing the fate or alleged wrongdoing of their loved ones? Continue reading “Will Donors Remember?”
Anne-Sophie Gindroz, an aid worker who was expelled by the Communist government of Laos in late 2012, has just written a book on her experience in that country. “Laos, the silent repression” (see attachment download above) comes five years after the disappearance of Laotian activist Sombath Somphone. The Laotian government has still not provided any information on his fate, despite international pressure.
Gindroz worked for the Swiss NGO Helvetas in Laos for three years. Shortly before her expulsion, she had been a member of the organizing committee of the Asia-Europe People Forum, a forum of civil society organizations which took place in the Laotian capital Vientiane to coincide with an Asia-Europe summit of heads of State and government. A week after her expulsion, Sombath Somphone was arrested by the Laotian police. He was founder of the Laotian NGO Participatory Development Training Center (PADETC), which works for education in rural areas, and was also on the organizing committee of the People Forum. He has not been heard of since. Author Anne-Sophie Gindroz spoke to Justice Info. Continue reading “A book on “Silent Repression in Laos”, five years after activist disappeared”
Laos’ ranking in Reporters Without Borders‘ 2017 “World Press Freedom Index”
Note: This is another in a series of posts on “Laos by the numbers.”
Feedback and suggestions are welcome.
Reporters without Borders ranks the Lao PDR almost at the bottom of its World Press Freedom Index, with a score of 66.41. Norway ranks at the top of the list with 7.60, and North Korea at the bottom with 84.98.
The criteria evaluated in the questionnaire are pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.
In 2016, Laos’ ranking was 173rd, and its score 71.58. When the index was first compiled in 2002, its score was 89.00. This rose to 92.00 in 2009 and has been gradually decreasing since then.
Vietnam and China’s ranks (and scores) are somewhat lower at 175th (73.96) and 176th (77.66) respectively. Thailand ranks at 142nd (44.69), Cambodia at 132nd (42.07) and Myanmar at 131st (41.82). Southeast Asia’s highest ranking goes to Indonesia at 124th (39.93),
Reporters without Borders gives the following description of press freedom in Laos:
The Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) exercises absolute control over the media. Increasingly aware of the restrictions imposed on the official media and their self-censorship, Laotians are turning to social media. However, the boom in online news and information platforms is threatened by a 2014 decree under which Internet users who criticize the government and the Marxist-Leninist LPRP can be jailed. Only three of the 40 or so TV channels are privately-owned, which falls far short of addressing the lack of media pluralism in Laos. A decree by the Prime Minister that took effect in January 2016 allows foreign media to set up office in Laos on condition that they submit their content to LPRP censorship.
Fourteen villagers in Laos’s Sekong province jailed since July for cutting down rubber trees on farm land claimed by a Vietnamese company are being held incommunicado, with some in failing health, sources say.
Speaking to RFA’s Lao Service, a relative of one of those held said that the villagers have been refused visits from their families since Oct. 2, when he was last able to see them.
If this is simply an oversight, it should be rectified as quickly as possible.
The European Parliament:
Strongly condemns the prison sentences against Somphone Phimmasone, Soukane Chaithad and Lod Thammavong, and calls for their immediate release;
Notes with concern that these verdicts add to a list of arrests and forced disappearances of activists and protesters who have expressed critical views on issues ranging from land disputes to allegations of corruption and abuse of power;
Reiterates its call on the Government of Laos to stop the harassment and arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders, independent journalists and social activists, and to respect the rights of free expression and association and the rights of minorities; reminds Laos of its international obligations under the human rights treaties it has ratified;
Urges the Laotian Government to respect its international commitments and protect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance which Laos signed in 2008;
Is gravely concerned at the widespread human rights abuses, including enforced disappearances and absence of fair trial; calls on the Lao authorities to meet their international human rights obligations by immediately accounting for the whereabouts of at least 10 missing individuals, including Sombath Somphone and Sompawn Khantisouk, and providing details of the charges brought and evidence produced against imprisoned activists;
Laos, notably the cases of Somphone Phimmasone, Lod Thammavong and Soukane Chaithad
European Parliament resolution of 14 September 2017 on Laos, notably the cases of Somphone Phimmasone, Lod Thammavong and Soukane Chaithad (2017/2831(RSP))
The European Parliament,
having regard to its previous resolutions on Laos,
having regard to the outcome of the 8th meeting of the European Union-Lao PDR Joint Committee held in Vientiane on 17 February 2017,
having regard to the statement by the Delegation of the European Union to the Lao PDR made in Vientiane on the World Freedom of the Press Day, 3 May 2017,
having regard to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders of 1998,
having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10 December 1948,
having regard to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966,
having regard to the Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic of 1 December 1997,
having regard to the ASEAN Charter,
having regard to Rules 135(5) and 123(4) of its Rules of Procedure,
A. whereas in March 2017 three Lao workers, Mr Somphone Phimmasone, Mr Soukane Chaithad and Ms Lod Thammavong, were sentenced to prison terms of between 12 and 20 years and the equivalent of tens of thousands of euros in fines for criticising the government on social media in relation to alleged corruption, deforestation, and human rights violations, while working in Thailand; whereas the three also stood accused of participating in an anti-government demonstration outside the Lao Embassy in Thailand in December 2015; Continue reading “Resolution of the European Parliament (2)”