UN Secretary-General must press gov’t on political prisoners, enforced disappearances

Press release
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(Paris) United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon must demand that the Lao government free all political prisoners and investigate unresolved cases of enforced disappearances during his upcoming official visit to Vientiane, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said today.

In connection with this call, FIDH and LMHR have jointly published two briefing papers that document the severe restrictions on the right to freedom of expression in Laos and show that the country ranks near the bottom of many international indexes that measure respect for democratic principles and key civil and political rights.

“Ban Ki-moon must use his visit to demand the release of all dissidents, some of whom have been languishing in jail for almost 17 years. It’s time for the international community to acknowledge the presence of political prisoners in Laos and call for their release.”

Debbie Stothard, FIDH Secretary-General

At least seven people remain behind bars for their criticism of the Lao government. They include two men, Somphone Phimmasone and Soukan Chaithad, and a woman, Lodkham Thammavong, who are detained incommunicado in Vientiane’s Phonethanh Prison. Authorities arrested the three in March 2016 for posting numerous messages on Facebook that criticized the government in relation to alleged corruption, deforestation, and human rights violations.

Pro-democracy activist Bounthanh Khammavong remains detained in Vientiane’s Phonetong Prison since his arrest in June 2015. On 18 September 2015, Bounthanh was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison under Article 65 of the Criminal Code for criticizing the Lao government on Facebook.

Two members of the Lao Students Movement for Democracy (LSMD), Thongpaseuth Keuakoun and Sengaloun Phengphanh, arrested on 26 October 1999, remain in solitary confinement in Vientiane’s Samkhe Prison. They are serving 20-year prison sentences for “generating social turmoil and endangering national security” in connection with their plans to hold peaceful demonstrations that were to call for democracy, social justice, and respect for human rights.

FIDH and LMH also urge Ban Ki-moon to demand that the Lao government conduct swift, thorough, and impartial investigations into all cases of enforced disappearances in the country and hold those responsible accountable. To date, the fate or whereabouts of at least 12 victims of enforced disappearances remain unknown.

They include prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who ‘disappeared’ at a police checkpoint on a busy street in Vientiane on 15 December 2012. The Lao authorities have failed to provide any specific information on the status and progress of the investigation into Sombath’s disappearance since 7 June 2013. The Laos government has also failed to determine the fate and whereabouts of nine activists – two women, Kingkeo and Somchit, and seven men, Soubinh, Souane, Sinpasong, Khamsone, Nou, Somkhit, and Sourigna – who were detained in November 2009 for planning pro-democracy demonstrations in Vientiane. Two other LSMD members arrested on 26 October 1999 in Vientiane, Bouavanh Chanhmanivong and Keochay, also remain missing. In addition to the above-mentioned cases, there are many other cases of enforced disappearances, which are believed to have gone unreported in Laos.

“Amid the pervasive fear that grips Lao civil society, Ban Ki-moon has an opportunity to give a voice to those who have fallen silent and show support for the families of victims of enforced disappearance. It’s imperative for all foreign dignitaries who visit Laos to ask the government: ‘Where is Sombath Somphone?’.”

Vanida Thephsouvanh, LMHR President

Ban Ki-moon will visit Vientiane from 7-8 September 2016 to attend the 8th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-UN Summit and the 11th East Asia Summit. He is scheduled to meet with Lao President Bounnhang Vorachit and Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith. This will be Ban Ki-moon’s second visit to Laos, after a previous trip in April 2009.

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Mr. Arthur Manet (French, English, Spanish) - Tel: +33672284294 (Paris)
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