Laotian police likely involved in Sombath abduction, new details suggest

Asian Times: 15 December 2017

By SHAIVALINI PARMAR AND SHIWEI YE

Five years ago on the Friday before Christmas, distraught colleagues and friends of Sombath Somphone gathered at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand after his disappearance in Laos’ capital, Vientiane. Last week, after another press conference at the FCCT on his case, we are nowhere closer to the truth than we were in 2012, but a new revelation adds weight to the widely held belief that the Laotian government was behind his disappearance.

A respected advocate for sustainable development and community empowerment, Sombath was driving home when he was stopped at a police checkpoint in Vientiane on the evening of December 15, 2012 – five years to the day before the publication of this article. Video footage showed him, moments after he got out of his car, being escorted by a group of unidentified individuals into a white van and driven away. An unidentified person then drove Sombath’s car away.

Last week, it was revealed that witnesses, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, saw Sombath in a police holding facility in Vientiane later that same evening, with his car parked nearby. In 2015, Ng Shui-Meng, Sombath’s wife, also obtained and publicly released additional closed-circuit TV footage showing Sombath’s car being driven toward the city center by an unknown individual. This suggests that the vehicle’s whereabouts could likely be traced. (more…)

New Guard, Old Problems: What Sombath Somphone’s Continued Disappearance Says About Rights in Laos

The Diplomat: 13 December 2017

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.

(more…)

Laos ranks 170 out of 180 in press freedom

170

out of

180

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 Peoples 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.

Resolution of the European Parliament (2)

European Parliament: 14 September 2017

P8_TA-PROV(2017)0350

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; (more…)

Laos also near bottom of the Economist’s “Democracy Index”

151

out of

167

Laos’ ranking in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2016 “Democracy Index”

Note: This is the  second in a series of posts on “Laos by the numbers.”

Feedback and suggestions are welcome.

The Lao PDR ranks 151st out of 167 on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Democracy Index” for 2016. The index compiles 60 indicators grouped into five categories, with a score of between 0 and 10 for each category:

  • 8.00 to 10.00 = Full Democracy
  • 6.00 to 8.00 = Flawed Democracy
  • 4.00 to 6.00 = Hybrid Regime
  • 0.00 to 4.00 = Authoritarian Regime

The Lao PDR’s overall score of 2.37 puts Laos firmly in the category of Authoritarian Regime:

Authoritarian regimes are nations where political pluralism has vanished or is extremely limited. These nations are often absolute dictatorships, may have some conventional institutions of democracy but with meager significance, infringements and abuses of civil liberties are commonplace, elections (if they take place) are not fair and free, the media is often state-owned or controlled by groups associated with the ruling regime, the judiciary is not independent, and the presence of omnipresent censorship and suppression of governmental criticism.

The five categories, and Laos’ score in each are:

  • Electoral process and pluralism = 0.83
  • Functioning of government = 2.86
  • Political participation = 1.67
  • Political culture = 5.00
  • Civil liberties = 1.47

Only ten of 167 countries rank lower than Laos in terms of Civil Liberties, and only two are lower in Political Participation.

While North Korea is ranked at the bottom of the list, Laos receives the lowest ranking of any Southeast Asian country. The rankings of neighbouring countries (with scores) include:

  • China = 136th (3.14)
  • Vietnam =131st (3.38)
  • Myanmar = 113th (4.20)
  • Cambodia = 112th (4.27)
  • Thailand = 100th (4.92)

Laos’ score has changed little since the index was initiated in 2006. From that year through 2011 its score remained at 2.10. In 2012, it increased to 2.32 before dropping back to 2.21 through 2015, and then rising to 2.36 in 2016