BANGKOK (23 June 2017) – The UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia (OHCHR) is alarmed by the harsh sentencing of three activists in Lao PDR and calls for their release.
Based on an official document recently obtained, Mr. Somphone Phimmasone, Mr. Soukan Chaithad, and Ms. Lodkham Thammavong were convicted in late March 2017 to 20, 16, and 12 years imprisonment under the Penal Code. The Vientiane People’s Court found the three guilty under Articles 56 (treason), 65 (propaganda against the state), and 72 (gatherings aimed at causing social disorder) for taking part in activities critical of the Government from September 2014 to February 2016.
“The sentencing of these three individuals represents a very harsh punishment, which is not necessary or proportionate and violates the international human rights obligations of Lao PDR,” said Laurent Meillan, Acting Regional Representative of the UN Human Rights Office.
Before appearing in court, they were held incommunicado detention and were later shown on the State Television apologizing for being traitors to the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, the Government, and the Lao People. “This practice of forced confession, extracted during incommunicado detention and publicized on national television, is disturbing and in contradiction with the right to fair trial,” Meillan said.
In December 2015, the three activists took part in a demonstration outside the Lao Embassy in Thailand to express concerns over the government’s human rights record. They also posted messages on social media criticizing the Government on alleged corruption, deforestation and enforced disappearances, and held gatherings to discuss these issues. In March 2016, they were arrested by police officers while they returned to Lao PDR to renew their passports.
“We encourage the Government to further the human rights agenda and urge it to protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. These rights play a critical role as they allow for dialogue, pluralism and tolerance where dissenting views or beliefs are respected, and are ultimately an important factor for the country’s development.”
In January 2015, Lao PDR made a commitment during the Universal Periodic Review that it will guarantee freedom of expression, the press, assembly and association, in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights it has ratified in 2009.