06/01/2015, 00.00
LAOS
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Young woman arrested for taking “damaging” picture posted on Facebook showing police extorting money

The picture shows police asking her brother for money. Police took the 26-year-old into custody without a warrant. The Communist Party is tightening controls on “untrue information" on the web.

Vientiane (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Authorities in Laos have detained a 26-year-old woman for a week after she posted photos on Facebook allegedly showing police officers extorting money from her brother over a traffic violation.

Phout Mitane, a resident of Nabouam village in Xayaburi province’s Phieng district, was taken into custody without an arrest warrant by local police officers on 21 May, a source close to her told Radio Free Asia’s Lao Service.

“Phout took a photo of the police on May 11 while she was sitting in a truck that belongs to her elder brother, while he was being extorted for money by the officers,” the source said.

“Later on, she gave the photos to her Facebook friend, who then posted them on the website.”

It is common to see traffic police take bribes from motorists in Laos, and the officers became infuriated when they saw their picture online.

“Facebook users were really criticizing them for their abuse of power and corruption,” the source added.

According to Radio Free Asia, police initially threatened Phout’s elder brother and family members with imprisonment, and impounded his lorry.

Then, on May 21, the police arrested Phout in Phieng district – without an arrest warrant from the public prosecutor – and sent her to the provincial jail, at which point they returned the truck to her brother, the source added.

Khamsawan Khamta, an officer with the Phieng district police department, confirmed that Phout had been arrested, but said she had wrongfully suggested authorities were extorting money from her brother.

 “The police stopped her elder brother’s truck at the checkpoint because the vehicle’s documents were incomplete, so he had to be fined,” he said. “The photos posted on Facebook criticized the police and damaged their image.”

The Lao People's Revolutionary (Communist) Party has ruled the country since 1975.

In recent years, it has taken various measures to counter the increasing use of social media in the country. In fact, a rising number of people are turning to the internet for news and information they do not have access to via state-run media.

In view of this, Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong signed a decree last September, banning the publication of “untrue information” about the government and the ruling Communist Party, and setting out stiff penalties for netizens and Internet service providers who violate controls.

The decree also requires netizens to use their real names when setting up social media and other accounts online.

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