Woman jailed for five years for criticizing the government online

Press release
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(Paris) Lao authorities must immediately release a woman who was sentenced today to five years in prison for criticizing the government on social media, FIDH and its member organization Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) urge.

“The Lao government’s relentless repression of the legitimate and peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression continues amid the international community’s deafening silence. It’s time for the international community to wake up and condemn Vientiane’s unacceptable behavior.”

Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary-General

A court in Champasak sentenced Houayheuang Xayabouly aka Mouay, a 31-year-old trader from Ban Salao Village, Phonethong District, Champasak Province, to five years in prison and a fine of 20 million Kip (approximately US$2,280) on charges 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 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 has been detained at the Champasak provincial prison since her arrest on 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.

It was not the first time Mouay 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.

“The shocking punishment to which Mouay is being subjected is intended to make an example out of her. The international community must demand the immediate release of Mouay and all other individuals who have been incarcerated for expressing their opinions.”

Vanida Thephsouvanh, LMHR President

In recent years, other Lao citizens have been imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of opinion and expression. 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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