Lao Woman Detained After Posting Police Extortion Photos to Facebook

2015-05-28
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Traffic police allegedly extort money from a motorist in Xayaburi province’s Phieng district, May 11, 2015.
Traffic police allegedly extort money from a motorist in Xayaburi province’s Phieng district, May 11, 2015.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener

Authorities in Laos have detained a woman for a week after she posted photos on Facebook allegedly showing police officers extorting money from her brother over a traffic violation, a source close to her said Thursday.

Phout Mitane, a 26-year-old resident of Nabouam village in Xayaburi province’s Phieng district, was taken into custody without an arrest warrant by local police officers on May 21, the source told RFA’s Lao Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“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.”

While the source said it is common to see traffic police take bribes from motorists in Laos, 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 the source, police initially threatened Phout’s elder brother and family members with imprisonment, and impounded the brother’s truck.

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 said.

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 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.”

Khamsawanh said police were “investigating whether someone else was behind her” publishing the photos online.

Social media surge

Use of social media in Laos has surged in recent years, with an increasing number of people looking to the internet to find news and information they do not have access to via state-run media.

In September last year, Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong signed Decree No. 327 into law, prohibiting online criticism of the government and the ruling communist party, and setting out stiff penalties for netizens and Internet service providers who violate controls.

Under the decree, which took effect on Oct. 1, netizens face criminal charges for publishing “untrue information” about policies of the ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party or the Lao government for the purpose of “undermining … the country.”

Netizens found to be disseminating content encouraging terrorism and social disorder, or which is deemed to “divide the solidarity among ethnic groups and between countries,” also face charges, while “national secrets” are also prohibited from being circulated.

Pornography and “inappropriate photos” are banned from online publication, as well as “photos that contradict Lao traditions and culture” and images that violate intellectual property rights.

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

Any Internet service provider determined to be “making available conditions or facilitating” actions aimed at tarnishing party or government policies also face legal action.

Those committing “minor” violations of the decree are subject to a warning, while those involved in “serious infringements” will be “disciplined, fined or subject to civil or criminal charges.”

The official Vientiane Times reported at the time that the government decided to issue the decree after authorities “learnt that many users have used the Internet in negative ways,” including circulating “false information” as well as “inappropriate photos” through social media such as Facebook.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Comments (5)
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jamie mcdonald

Lao police will write a ticket if you want one. But the one time I took that option it took me 2 hours going to 6 offices to pay - easier just to pay on the spot and let them put it in their pockets. That's where it's going in the end anyway. Being arrested for the Facebook post - true, it's that kind of government.

May 30, 2015 04:47 PM

Superman

from Krypton

Look at the bright side, at least she was only jailed for 1 week. In Saudi Arabia, they would behead you on the spot. But, then again, I could be wrong. People in Laos have gone missing without explanation.

May 29, 2015 12:32 AM

Anonymous Reader

Nobody loves the Lao cops. Nobody loves American CIA propaganda either. Radio Free Asia? Then put this in your comments. Freedom, even in the US, is what the government allows.

May 28, 2015 10:22 PM

CITIZEN AGAINST CORRUPTION

Phout Mitane you did a good job for taking a photo on Lao police officers for taking bribes. There was no reason for Lao police officer to detain you. They should be shame on themselves and those police officers should get fire. Don't be afraid, continue to take more picture and post it on social media. This is the only way to tell the world how this communist regime conducted their business and enforce the law.

May 28, 2015 06:46 PM

kev o'leary

Paying off cops at checkpoints is everyday stuff in Laos. In my experience they only make you pay if there's been some sort of violation; I've neither seen nor heard of outright extortion. Though the money does go into their pockets. Not that anybody likes paying; and not that I'm a fan of the Lao police either.

May 28, 2015 05:49 PM

Anonymous Reader

Hi Kev, Well I have been the victim of outright extortion by cops in Laos. I had not done anything wrong. They put my wife in jail and impounded our pick-up until I paid more than $4,000. She was not allowed visitors or phone calls. Our infant son was constantly crying for his mother. She was released after 6 nights.

Mar 21, 2016 10:23 AM

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