Lao Authorities on the Lookout for Facebook 'Friends'

Police to seek out the "members of the network or gang" that are connected to three arrests in March under a government decree prohibiting online dissemination of "untrue information."

From left, Lod Thammavong, Somphone Phimmasone and Soukane Chaithad are being held by Lao authorities for posts they made on Facebook.

Authorities are looking for Facebook “friends” and other connections to three Lao citizens arrested in March for criticizing their government and ruling party via the popular social media platform, RFA’s Lao service has learned.

Somphone Phimmasone, 29, his girlfriend Lod Thammavong, 30, and Soukane Chaithad, 32, have been held in Vientiane’s Phonthanh jail since they were arrested after returning to Laos to renew their passports from Thailand where they were working.

“The police believe the detainees have many more friends, members of the network or gang,” a Ministry of Public Security official told RFA on condition of anonymity. “The police want to know who and where they are.”

While the police are investigating, the authorities have prevented their parents and other relatives from seeing the detainees, sources tell RFA.

“They are still detained,” the official said. “Their parents are allowed to send them food, but police are still investigating because they have not been telling the whole truth.”

When asked why they are not allowed to see their parents, the security ministry official responded: “Because according to the rule of law, police will not allow the suspects to meet outsiders during the investigation. The visits may affect the ongoing investigation.”

While they made a confession on TV, the three Lao workers have yet to be tried or sentenced.

In 2014 the Lao government issued a decree prohibiting online criticism of the government and the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP), setting out stiff penalties for netizens and Internet service providers who violate the government’s controls.

Under the decree, netizens will 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,” will also face charges, KPL said, adding that “national secrets” are also prohibited from being circulated.

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

Reported and translated by RFA's Lao Service. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.