Human Rights Watch today, has called upon the Lao government to immediately release the political activists who were arrested for planning a peaceful pro-democracy rally in Vientiane.
Lao authorities arrested at least seven activists last November 12, 2019 for being part of the unregistered pro-democracy group Lao National Unity and accused them of planning to participate in a rally in Vientiane that had been scheduled for November 11.
The Lao Movement for Human Rights said that the organizers cancelled the event because many participants were put under state surveillance and could not safely travel from other provinces to the capital.
“Lao authorities should without delay release all the activists being detained for planning a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration and permit the rally to take place,” said Brad Adams, HRW Asia director.
Those known to have been arrested are: Sounthone Fasongsay, Khamkone Phanthavong, Boungnone Phanthavong, Chiengsone Phanthavong, Kiettisack Hakmisouk, Santinoi Thepkaysone, and Santinoi’s wife, whose name was not disclosed. Lao government officials have not provided any information about their current whereabouts, raising concerns about enforced disappearances.
The actual number of people being detained might be much higher. Dozens of people who planned to participate in the rally have been reported missing since November 11, and their families have not yet located them.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Laos is a party, protects the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association, and peaceful assembly.
However, Lao authorities have frequently labelled as national security threats anyone peacefully expressing dissenting views, criticizing the government, or simply calling for respect for human rights and democratic rule.
A number of people who have criticized the government have been forcibly disappeared.
The prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone, last seen in the custody of police at a checkpoint in Vientiane in December 2012, has not been heard from since.
Pro-democracy activists and dissidents who fled political persecution in Laos have also been at grave risk in neighbouring countries. Od Sayavong, a refugee from Laos and prominent critic of the Lao government who lived in Bangkok, has been missing since August.
There has been no progress in the Thai police investigation of his disappearance, which has significantly heightened the climate of fear among Lao exiles in Thailand. (Source: HRW)