Thai police investigating shooting death of officially recognized Lao refugee

Activist fled to Thailand years ago and joined anti-Lao government protests
By RFA Lao
2023.05.22
Thai police investigating shooting death of officially recognized Lao refugee Bounsuan Kitiyano was a Lao democracy and human rights activist and a former member of the Free Laos group.
Citizen journalist

Thai police are investigating the shooting death of a Lao democracy activist who was living in Thailand as an officially recognized refugee and had been planning to move to Australia in the near future, Radio Free Asia has learned.

Bounsuan Kitiyano, 56, is a former member of the Free Laos group, which over the past few years had staged several protests in front of the Lao Embassy in Bangkok demanding that Vientiane respect human rights and freedom of expression. 

The shooting was the latest of several recent attacks on Lao activists on Thai soil.

Police said Bounsuan had been living in Thailand for the past four or five years. His body was found on May 16 near a forest in the eastern province of Ubon Ratchathani, which borders Laos. 

An initial investigation found that he had been shot three times while riding a motorcycle. Police also found his ID card issued by the Thai office of the UN refugee agency, or UNHCR, confirming his official status.

The body was transported to a nearby hospital for further investigation, but by May 19, it had already been collected by a close friend for ceremonial burial purposes.

Prior to his death, friends had visited Bouansuan at his home, Thongkham Soukhuan, a 74-year-old villager, told local media.

“He asked to use a motorcycle so he could visit his friends,” Thongkham said. “We then lost contact with him and they found him dead on May 16.”

Motive explored

In a report published Sunday on the English website for Thai news outlet Khao Sod, police said there were two possibilities: either he was killed for his opposition to the Lao government, or his relatives are angry with him because he caused the Lao government to harass and arrest them. Khao Sod did not elaborate on the situation with his family.

The police department in Ubon Ratchathani’s Simeuangmay district confirmed the incident to RFA’s Lao Service, but the officer responding to the query was not able to provide further information on orders of the department's upper management. 

Bounsuan’s death was an “obvious” example of the Lao government taking extreme measures to silence dissidents both at home and abroad, Andrea Giorgetta of the Bangkok office of the International Federation for Human Rights told RFA.

It is shocking that Thailand, which used to be a safe destination for foreign activists fleeing repression in their respective countries, has become a very dangerous place for them,” she said. 

“It’s imperative that the diplomatic community in Bangkok and Vientiane urge the authorities in both Laos and Thailand to hold perpetrators of recent attacks against Lao activists in both countries accountable,” she said.

RFA’s inquiries to the UNHCR office in Thailand received no response as of Monday.

Thongkham said that for a short time, Bounsuan had returned to Laos, living in hiding in Pakse city, in the southern province of Champassak, but he fled to Thailand again after he found that it was not safe to live in Laos. 

He had plans to go to Bangkok in the near future to file documents so he could go to Australia as an asylum seeker.

The Germany-based Alliance for Democracy in Laos is preparing to inform the United Nations Human Rights Council about Bounsuan’s death, Bounthone Chanthalavong-Wiese, the organization’s president, told RFA.

Translated by Phouvong. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

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