Ten years after their arrest, four leaders of the October 26, 1999 Movement remain detained

Press release
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The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), and the Lao Movement for Human Rights (Mouvement laotien pour les droits de l’Homme - MLDH) express their deep concern regarding the continued arbitrary detention of four members of the Lao Students Movement of October 26, 1999 for Democracy, a group that had organised a peaceful march in Vientiane on that day to denounce social injustice and to call for the respect of human rights and democratic reforms in Laos.

Condemned to 20 years in prison for "generating social turmoil and endangering national security" following their roles in the peaceful protests on October 26, 1999, Messrs. Thongpaseuth Keuakoun, Seng-Aloun Phengphanh, Bouavanh Chanmanivong and Kèochay are still incarcerated ten years later in Samkhe prison, in the province of Vientiane, while in May 2004 co-detainees who had just been released had revealed that Mr. Khamphouvieng Sisa-At had died in prison in late 2001, apparently as a result of ill-treatments and malnutrition while in detention in Samkhe prison. Through instrumentalisation of the law on ’national security’, the Laotian Government punishes dissidents in a manner that should not be applied to any human being, event criminals, thereby disregarding human rights with complete impunity.

Since ten years, the Laotian Government has always refused to provide any coherent information on the whereabouts or health conditions of the members of the Movement of October 26, 1999. On March 20, 2007, when questioned by European Members of Parliament during an official meeting in Vientiane, the President of the Laotian National Assembly, Mr. Thongsing Thammavong, had declared that these prisoners of conscience had already been "freed at the end of 2006, but no public announcement had been made". However, to date, none has been released nor are there any signs that their release is imminent.

In September 2009, Laos ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which requires State parties to assure its citizens freedoms of expression and association and to apply all articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to Article 5 of this Convention, prisoners must be treated in a manner which respects internationally recognised human rights standards. The context in which these peaceful protesters were arrested and the fact that one has died in custody demonstrates the Laotian Government’s failure to institute policies as required by the international covenants and declarations binding upon it.

The Observatory and the MLDH therefore urge the Laotian Government to honour its commitment to comply with the ICCPR, as well as its international legal obligations arising from the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders as a State member of the United Nations, by releasing Messrs. Thongpaseuth Keuakoun, Seng-Aloun Phengphanh, Bouavanh Chanmanivong, and Kèochay immediately and unconditionally as it only aims at sanctioning their human rights activities. Moreover, the Laotian authorities should order an immediate, thorough, effective and impartial investigation into Mr. Khamphouvieng Sisa-At’s death in custody, the result of which must be made public, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before a civil competent and impartial tribunal and apply to them the penal sanctions provided by the law.

More generally, the Observatory and the MLDH calls upon the Laotian authorities to guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of, and put an end to any kind of harassment against all human rights defenders in Laos.

As the tenth anniversary of this event approaches, the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic must send a strong signal of their willingness to open up a genuine dialogue with their own civil society on the question of the respect of human rights, stop persecution of human rights defenders and promoters of democracy and release Messrs. Thongpaseuth Keuakoun, Seng-Aloun Phengphanh, Bouavanh Chanmanivong and Kèochay.

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