Wife of missing Lao community leader pleads against hero-worship

The Nation: 12 December 2013

The wife of a missing Lao civil society leader Sombath Somphone has pleaded with the media to stop idolising him, saying the attention could be doing more harm than good.

“When you read what has been written in the press over the past 12 months, Sombath is made to be like a super-Laotian,” Singaporean Ng Chui Meng said.

“He’s not,” she told the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand late Wednesday, ahead of the anniversary of her husband’s disappearance in Vientiane on December 15, 2012.

“We understand that Sombath is already in very dire circumstances if he is still alive, and this is why I appeal to our media friends to be a little more circumspect of the real situation in Laos,” Ng said.

Sombath, 61, went missing after being detained at a police checkpoint outside the Lao capital, where CCTV images captured him leaving his own vehicle, then getting into a pickup truck and being driven away.

Clarification

“While Sombath has always advocated broader dialogue and participation on the overall development approaches in Laos and, especially advocated for sustainable development which is more balanced, taking into consideration development’s impact on culture, nature, spiritual well-being, as well as the economy, he never criticized specific projects nor actively supported any organizing against hydro-power dams.”

Ng Shui Meng, quoted in Dam dilemmas: Laos cashes in on hydro

Sombath Somphone, Lao activist missing for 10 months, spurs wife’s desperate plea

Sidney Morning Herald: 25 October 2013

SMHVientiane: The wife of prominent social activist Sombath Somphone has made a desperate plea to Lao authorities, declaring he will leave the country and retire quietly with her if returned safely after being abducted in the Lao capital 10 months ago.

Ng Shui Meng, who has been married to the award-winning Sombath for 30 years, says she does not want to see any more damage done to Laos’ image and credibility over the abduction which human rights groups describe as a state-sponsored forced disappearance.

Every day since Sombath disappeared has been “an eternity of waiting, wavering between hope and despair.”

“All I want is only the safe return of Sombath,” Ms Shui Meng, a Singaporean, told Fairfax Media.

“He is an old man who is in need of medical attention. Once he is returned I will take him out of the country for medical care and we will live out the rest of our lives in quiet retirement,” she said. Continue reading “Sombath Somphone, Lao activist missing for 10 months, spurs wife’s desperate plea”

Lonely Vigil for Missing Laotian Activist

The Sentinel: 02 October 2013

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Sombath and Shui Meng

Government suspected of complicity in development expert’s disappearance

For Ng Shui-Meng, the past 10 months have been lonely, frustrating and frightening. She has been engaged in a vain struggle to discover what happened to her husband, Sombath Somphone, who almost certainly was kidnapped and murdered, possibly with the complicity of members of the Laotian government.

Shui-Meng refuses to give up, hoping that the 61-year-old Sombath, a popular and internationally known development expert who disappeared last Dec. 6 as he was on his way home to dinner, may still be alive. There are suspicions that Sombath had aroused the antagonism of major land interests over his attempts to protect the interests of the largely rural peasant population.

An estimated 40 percent of the country’s arable lands is now in the hands of foreign interests, studies say. However, his wife says Sombath has never been confrontational and had worked closely with the government to alleviate poverty.

Sombath, recipient of the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award and many other prestigious honors, simply vanished as he and Shui-Meng were driving home in separate cars in the Laotian capital of Vientiane. The disappearance has stirred criticism from the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and a wide range of human rights organizations for the government’s apparent refusal to come clean on the case. Continue reading “Lonely Vigil for Missing Laotian Activist”

Letter from Shui Meng on the International Day of the Disappeared

Today (August 30) is the International Day of the Disappeared. Shui Meng has shared the following letter with friends and colleagues to call attention to this terrible practice.

A number of groups and media organisations are doing research on the number and nature of Enforced Disappearances in Laos. If you have any verifiable, documented evidence, please share it.

Dear All,

August 30 marks the International Day of the Disappeared. In many Asian countries, there are activities marking the day to show solidarity with the victims of Enforced Disappearances.

Although Laos is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Enforced Disappearances, and many other human rights conventions and protocols, and despite receiving substantial assistance from development partners for awareness and capacity building on HR issues, there is little awareness or even recognition that Enforced Disappearance is an HR issue in Laos.

In fact, in HR terms Enforced Disappearance is considered the “Mother of HR Violations” because a disappeared person is a “non-person,” and until the person’s whereabouts and proof of life or otherwise are known, the family is left in limbo; left waiting without any possibility of “closure”; left hanging between hope and despair. Nobody, except those who have experienced such violations, can even describe the agony and trauma they face every minute of the day, and outsiders can never understand those feelings and emotions.

I write this not because I am venting my feelings, but to urge you all, as development practitioners and HR advocates, to do more about raising awareness of the issue of disappearances in the HR context of Laos.

There are many cases of disappearances in Laos, more than are admitted, because the family members of the victims are too afraid to speak or reach out for help. Recently, I wanted to reach out regarding one case which was reported to the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, but was told that the family wants it to remain confidential. Such is the scale of fear, and that is why the perpetrators in Laos can continue to act with impunity and know that they will face little or no consequences.

I have spent my entire working life working on development in Laos and elsewhere to improve the lives and rights of the poor and disenfranchised, and I have been very proud of our mission. So, I urge you all, my development colleagues, to take a firmer and more forthright stand on the issue of disappearances with your Lao partners at the national and at the local levels. I at least have a voice, please be the voice and conscience of those Lao people who are voiceless and afraid.

Yours sincerely, Shui Meng

Wife pleads for return of abducted Laos aid worker

BBC video, 30 April 2013

Click this link or the image below to watch the video.

BBC_coverage_of_Sombath_disappearanceThe wife of a prominent Laos civil society leader who disappeared four months ago while driving home has urged that more be done to find her husband.

Security camera footage showed Sombath Somphone being taken away by unidentified men after he was stopped by police in the capital Vientiane.

The communist authorities in Laos say they do not know what has happened to him.

Mr Sombath had been campaigning for sustainable development and fair land rights for small farmer.

Editorial: Missing Activist’s Family Deserves Help and Answers

The Nation: 16 April 2013

30203977-01_bigLao social campaigner Sombath Somphone was allegedly abducted last December in Vientiane, but no one in authority wants to offer any clue to his whereabouts or fate

Since December 15 last year, when Lao social activist and Magsaysay Award winner Sombath Somphone went missing, his wife Ng Shui Meng has spent most of her time campaigning and working to ensure his safe return. It’s a daily struggle that so far has reaped no reward.

Sombath was last seen driving his jeep in Vientiane, where he was stopped at a police post and then driven away in a pickup truck by unidentified men.

Members of Sombath’s family, including his 85-year-old mother, are of course desperately concerned about his fate. His ageing and weak mother was still hoping to see her eldest son during Songkran, the traditional New Year festival also celebrated in Laos.

It is difficult for Shui Meng to explain to her mother-in-law why that Sombath appears to have been abducted, and why those in power are reluctant to help find him or offer any theory on his disappearance.

Born into a poor family in Ban Don Khio, central Khammouane province, Sombath spent most of his early life struggling with poverty, hunger and insecurity. He and his family had to seek refuge during the Indochina war in the 1960s. Like many others, Sombath was fortunate to get the opportunity to leave Laos and permanently settle in another country. However, he chose to return home and work for the better development of his country and people. Continue reading “Editorial: Missing Activist’s Family Deserves Help and Answers”

Missing activist's case losing prominence

The Straights Times: 11 April 2013

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Magsaysay Award winner Sombath Somphone with his Singapore wife Ng Shui Meng. Mr Sombath disappeared in the Laotian capital of Vientiane four months ago. — PHOTO: COURTESY OF NG SHUI MENG

A WALL of silence has risen over the disappearance of Magsaysay Award winner Sombath Somphone in Laos four months ago.

His wife, Singaporean national Ng Shui Meng, is exhausted but still not contemplating leaving Laos, the couple’s home for more than 30 years.

“Sometimes I feel this has to be a (bad) dream, a nightmare,” she says. “I stay because there is still some hope.”

Madam Ng was on the way back to Singapore for a break and on a brief stopover in Bangkok yesterday where she had an emotional meeting with Mrs Angkhana Neelapaijit. Her husband – Thai human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit – disappeared under similar circumstances in the Thai capital in 2004.

“I know what Shui Meng is going through,” Mrs Angkhana told The Straits Times. “It’s an emotional seesaw driven by rumours. One day you hear from someone that your husband is alive. The next day you hear that his body has been found.”

Neither man has been found – alive or dead.

Mr Sombath’s abduction may have been triggered by his role in coordinating the Asia-Europe People’s Forum in Vientiane in October last year, where the Laos government came under some criticism. Continue reading “Missing activist's case losing prominence”

Where in the World is Sombath?

The Edge Review: 05 April 2013

By Marwaan Macan-Markar / Bangkok

They were heading home for dinner in Vientiane on the evening of Dec. 15. Ng Shui-Meng, a former UNICEF staffer, was in the car ahead. Following behind was her husband, Sombath Somphone, in his battered old jeep.

But Sombath never made it home that night.

Ng’s search for her husband began soon after, with an appeal by the native Singaporean to the Laotian government to help trace the man whose fame as a civil society leader had earned him praise at home and abroad. She wrote a letter to the ministry of public security and included a copy of the CCTV footage of Sombath being checked at a police post and then being led to another vehicle on the night he vanished.

Then on Jan 4, Yong Chanthalangsy, Laos’ ambassador at the United Nations in Geneva, released a statement: “It may be possible Mr. Sombath has been kidnapped perhaps because of a personal conflict or a conflict in business or some other reason,” according to a version published in the Vientiane Times newspaper.

The Laotian government’s attempt to distance itself from an event that unfolded within a police-controlled environment and was captured on video has raised questions about its credibility. It comes at a time when the country is seeking to open up after decades of socialist control since the end of the Indo-China war.

It is an attitude that has brought little comfort to Ng, who met Sombath when the two of them were students at the University of Hawaii in the 1970s and who then followed him, after marriage, to Laos in 1985. He came home to help the country’s rural poor and she contributed in the fields of education, women and children’s issues.

The following are excerpts of an interview Ng granted to The Edge Review:

imageREVIEW: It is now over 100 days since your husband, Sombath Somphone, disappeared. When was the last time you heard from a Laos government official about the status of the investigation?

Ng Shui-Meng: I contacted the public security once
again a week ago asking whether the investigation was still ongoing or (whether) they considered the case closed. The response is that they are still investigating. Before that was the public security’s second official report on the results of their investigation issued on 2nd March. Continue reading “Where in the World is Sombath?”

Third letter from Sombath’s wife

Third Appeal to the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic 

Ng Shui Meng, Wife of Sombath Somphone, 30 January 2013

This is my third appeal to the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to release information or results of investigation of the disappearance of my husband, Sombath Somphone, on the evening of 15 December 2012.

Today is the 45th day since my husband’s disappearance and I have done all I can to cooperate with the police and provided information to assist the investigation and find my husband as quickly as possible.  I have also met with the National Assembly Vice-President and his staff to appeal to the National Assembly, as the representatives of the people, to urge the police to expedite the investigation.  But all these efforts have not yielded any concrete information related to the progress of the investigation, other than statements that “the police are still investigating”.

There are still no answers to my queries regarding:

  1. What did the police manning the police post the evening of Sombath’s disappearance on 15 December 2012 said what happened that night, and what did they see?
  2. Whether the motorcyclist who drove away Sombath’s jeep has been identified?
  3. Has Sombath’s jeep (License plate No.: 2624) been found?
  4. Whether the white truck with flashing lights that stopped at the police post and took my husband away been identified?
  5. Has the driver of the white truck who drove away with my husband been questioned?
  6. If the footages were too blurry, as claimed by the police, has the Ministry of Public Security sought technical assistance from any other government or international security agencies? Are they too blurry for the entire Tha Deua Road CCTV cameras?
  7. Has the Lao police issued an Interpol Yellow Notification to inform colleagues in the region about Sombath’s disappearance and sought their assistance?

To all these questions I have not had any satisfactory answers. Continue reading “Third letter from Sombath’s wife”