A Lao citizen arrested in March for criticizing Laos’s government and ruling party on Facebook while working abroad was seen last week by his family in a brief visit to the jail in which he is being held, a family member said.
Somphone Pimmasone, 29, was taken into custody with his girlfriend Lod Thammavong, 30, and friend Soukane Chaithad, 32, after returning to Laos to renew their passports from Thailand, where they had been working.
They have since been held without trial at the Phonethan jail in Laos’s capital Vientiane, with Somphone confined for a time for questioning in a “small, dark cell,” a family member told RFA’s Lao Service.
“I was happy to see him,” Somphone’s relative said following the Sept. 28 meeting, “and I would like to request the Lao authorities to reduce his punishment, since he has confessed his guilt.”
Somphone, Lod, and Soukane had previously been denied family visits by prison officials during an initial investigation of the charges against them, a Ministry of Security official told RFA in an earlier report.
Lao authorities have meanwhile been searching for Facebook friends of the three in the hope of uncovering a larger “network or gang” of activists opposing the country’s one-party communist state.
No right to lawyers
The three detainees, who have admitted in a televised confession to the charges made against them, are now scheduled to appear in court “sometime this month,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The court will inform the families of the exact date,” he added.
“They have no right to their own lawyers to fight the charges, because this is a political issue,” he said.
The family members of a second detainee, Soukane Chaithad, had planned to visit him before regional ASEAN meetings held in Laos in September, but prison officials had blocked the visit, saying they were “not available” to arrange the meeting, RFA’s source said.
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 government controls.
The decree also requires netizens to use their real names when setting up social media and other accounts online.
Reported and translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’ s Lao Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.