Lao police have publicly acknowledged that the arrest of three Lao workers who returned home from Thailand to renew their passports for the offense of criticizing the government and the ruling communist party via social media while abroad.
Somphone Phimmasone, 29, his girlfriend Lod Thammavong, 30, and Soukane Chaithad, 32, disappeared after returning to Laos earlier this year to renew their passports, their family and friends told RFA’s Lao Service in a previous report.
“Special police forces suppressed a group of bad people who have campaigned to accuse and condemn the direction of the state and party through Facebook,” the Ministry of Public Security and police announced on a state security television channel on Wednesday.
“It’s true that the three of them were arrested,” a policeman who works at the TV channel told RFA’s Laos service on Friday.
“They were at the press conference which was held only for the state security TV channel and newspaper yesterday,” he said. “Other media were not allowed to cover the event.”
The security channel showed the three making what appeared to be public confessions. They apologized to the communist party, government, Lao people and their relatives for making the mistake of getting involved with the group that protested against the country’s policies.
“For me, from now on I will improve myself, change my ideas, not go against the government and not be traitor to the country,” Somphone said..
He also said that no authorities or agencies had threatened or coerced him into speaking to the press at the conference.
“We admit our mistake,” he said, speaking on behalf of the other two at the end of the press conference.
Apprehended for political campaigning
Police arrested Somphone and Lod at her home at Navatai village of Nongbok district in central Laos’ Khammouane province on March 5, said a relative of the couple, who declined to be named, in an earlier report.
Police initially told the couple’s relatives that the pair had been arrested for drug possession, but two weeks later the policeman in charge of the jail informed them that they had been arrested for political campaigning.
Somphone and Lod were being held in the province’s Khamkhikai jail as of April, but later the police told their families that they had transferred the pair to the capital Vientiane for detention, the relative said.
Soukane Chaitad disappeared on March 22 while he was renewing his passport at a police station in Savannakhet province, south of Khammouane, according to his wife who now works in Thailand.
Police denied seeing him there, although a witness told his family that someone drove off with Soukane in a truck after he had arrived at the station, she said.
While working in Thailand, the three strongly criticized the Lao government on social media for its human rights abuses and lack of democracy, sources told RFA in an earlier report.
They and some friends also protested outside the Lao embassy in the Thai capital Bangkok on Lao National Day on Dec. 2, 2015 calling on the Lao government to respect human rights and democracy, they said.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.