06/16/2016, 14.47
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Confessions from arrested Laotian social media activists

The country’s ruling party warns everyone using social media. Three people arrested reappear on TV to apologise for their actions. Worldwide Movement for Human Rights highlights the gap between what Laotian authorities say and what they do. The group calls for the prisoners’ immediate release.

Vientiane (AsiaNews) – Exiled activists and civil society groups are increasingly concerned about a government crackdown on freedom of expression in Laos.

People who posted critical comments on social media about the country’s one-party state have been targeted. The latest are three Laotians who complained about human rights abuses on Facebook.

Police arrested Somphone Phimmasone29, his girlfriend Lod Thammasong, 30, and Soukan Chaithad, 32, in Navatai, Kammouane province, on 5 March, after they returned from Thailand to renew their passport.

Along with others, the detainees had protested in front of the Laotian Embassy in Bangkok on 2 December 2015, demanding the government respect democracy.

After going missing, the three appeared on national television 25 May in a prison clothes, and apologised for endangering the country’s unity.

"From now on I will behave well, change my attitude and stop all activities that betray the nation,” said Somphone. Soukan stressed their confessions weren't forced by the authorities.

The Paris-based Worldwide Movement for Human Rights (Fédération international des ligues des droits de l’Homme, FIDH) and the Lao Movement for Human Rights (Mouvement laotien des droits de l’homme, MLDH) issued a joint statement calling for the release of the three arbitrarily arrested prisoners.

The two groups pointed out that the government’s systematic crackdown on peaceful dissent shows the huge gap that exists between its promises to the international community and its violent actions.

Increased repression by the ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party might be due to rising Internet use. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of users went from 60,000 to 400,000.

Arresting dissidents is nothing new. On 26 May 1999 five members of the student movement for democracy were arrested in Vientiane and sentenced to 20 years in prison. One of them died from abuse.

In 2009 nine other activists were arrested for taking part in pro-democracy protests in the capital. Nothing is known about their fate.

The best known case is that of Sombath Somphone. A teacher, a human rights activist and a Magsaysay Award recipient, he went missing on 15 December 2012 near a police check point.

Although CCTV cameras clearly show his abduction, the government has never provided any information about his fate.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Laos is one of the least press freedom-friendly countries in the world, ranked 173rd out of 180.

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