Woman detained for criticizing the government online

Press release
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(Paris) Lao authorities must immediately release a woman who has been detained for criticizing the government on social media, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) urged today.

“The Lao government must stop persecuting its citizens for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of opinion and expression. Instead of devoting so many resources to silencing its critics, Vientiane’s primary concern should be to address the Lao people’s numerous and legitimate grievances.”

Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Vice-President

According to a police document seen by FIDH and LMHR, Houayheuang Xayabouly aka Mouay, a 30-year-old trader from Ban Salao Village, Phonethong District, Champasak Province, was detained at the Champasak provincial prison on 12 September 2019 under Article 117 of the Criminal Code (‘Propaganda against the Lao People’s Democratic Republic’).

Article 117 punishes with prison terms of one to five years and a fine of five to 20 million Kip (approximately US$570 to US$2,280) anyone who conducts “propaganda activities against and slandering the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, […] or circulating false rumors causing disorder by words, in writing, through print, newspapers, motion pictures, videos, photographs, documents or other media which are detrimental to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic or are for the purpose of undermining or weakening State authority.”

Mouay recently 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. This is not the first time Mouay has used the online platform to criticize the government. In 2018, she repeatedly used Facebook to denounce instances of corruption among Lao authorities. Following the July 2018 collapse of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy dam in Attapeu Province, Mouay was active on Facebook and criticized the Lao government’s handling of the deadly disaster. In both circumstances, police summoned Mouay and asked her to stop her online criticism of the government.

“Mouay’s detention is the latest in a series of cases that show the Lao government’s intolerance of peaceful criticism. Her arrest may lead to a long prison term that is aimed at deterring others from expressing their legitimate views on democracy, governance, and human rights.”

Vanida Thephsouvanh, LMHR President

Other people have been detained in recent years for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of opinion and expression. On 18 September 2015, a court in Vientiane sentenced pro-democracy activist Bounthanh Thammavong, a Laos-born Polish citizen, to four years and nine months in prison under Article 65 of the Criminal Code (now Article 117 in the amended Criminal Code that came into effect on 1 November 2018) in connection with a Facebook post that allegedly “criticized the guidelines and policies of the party and government.” Bounthanh was released from prison on 19 June 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. They had posted numerous messages on Facebook that criticized the government in relation to alleged corruption, deforestation, and human rights violations. 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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