At least seven detained over planned pro-democracy demonstration

Press release
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(Paris) Lao authorities must immediately release seven individuals who were arbitrarily detained on Tuesday for attempting to participate in a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) urged today.

According to information received by FIDH and LMHR, several dozen people were expected to take part in the demonstration on 11 November 2019 in Vientiane. However, the rally, which had been organized by the Lao National Unity, an underground group, was called off due to difficulties faced by many participants travelling from other provinces to reach Vientiane in time.

“In Laos, people are now being detained simply for attempting to call for democracy. The fact that the Lao government puts behind bars individuals who have done nothing wrong shows to what extent this repressive government is willing to go to silence all forms of criticism in order to maintain its grip on power.”

Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary-General

At approximately 1:00pm on 12 November 2019, authorities arrested six men (Sounthone Fasongsay, Khamkone Phanthavong, Boungnone Phanthavong, Chiengsone Phanthavong, Kiettisack Hakmisouk, and Santinoi Thepkaysone) and one woman (Santinoi Thepkaysone’s wife – name unknown) in Vientiane’s Saysettha District.

FIDH and LMHR fear more people might have been arrested for attempting to participate in the demonstration. Phouvong Sayaseng, a man who had travelled from Bolikhamsai Province to Vientiane to take part in the demonstration, was last seen by his wife at a hotel in Vientiane’s Saysettha District on the evening of 11 November 2019. His fate and whereabouts remain unknown.

“The current crackdown bears striking similarities to the arrest and ensuing enforced disappearance of nine people who planned to join pro-democracy demonstrations in Vientiane in November 2009. The Lao government’s repression of dissent is as ruthless today as it was a decade ago.”

Vanida Thephsouvanh, LMHR President

In November 2009, two women - Kingkeo and Somchit - and seven men - Soubinh, Souane, Sinpasong, Khamsone, Nou, Somkhit, and Sourigna - were detained for planning to participate in pro-democracy demonstrations in Vientiane. The fate and whereabouts of the nine remain unknown to this day.

These arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances are part of a broader trend. In recent years, several other Lao citizens have been detained for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of opinion and expression and their right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Houayheuang Xayabouly aka Mouay, a 30-year-old trader from Ban Salao Village, Phonethong District, Champasak Province, has been detained at the Champasak provincial prison under Article 117 of the Criminal Code (‘Propaganda against the Lao People’s Democratic Republic’) since 12 September 2019. Mouay used Facebook to post messages that criticized the Lao government’s response to floods that hit the country’s southern provinces in late August and early September 2019.

On 22 March 2017, three government critics, Somphone Phimmasone, Soukan Chaithad, and Lodkham Thammavong, were sentenced to 20, 16, and 12 years in prison respectively under Articles 56 (‘Treason to the nation’), 65 (now Article 117 - ‘Propaganda against the Lao People’s Democratic Republic’), and 72 (‘Gatherings aimed at causing social disorder’) of the Criminal Code. The three were arrested in early 2016 as a result of their repeated criticism of the Lao government while they were working in Thailand. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared their detention arbitrary in an opinion adopted on 25 August 2017.

Press contact
LMHR: Ms. Vanida Thephsouvanh (French, English, Lao) - Tel: +33160065706 (Paris)
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