A Lao man who had complained about corruption in the communist-run country on social media was arrested at his home in southern Laos last week and is being questioned in jail about links to “an anti-government group of overseas Laotians,” police sources told RFA Tuesday.
The arrest on Aug. 26 of Sangkhane “Thitsy” Phachanthavong was condemned by human rights groups, who said he is the latest known victim of a government that locks up citizens who post popular gripes and mild criticism on Facebook about graft and abuses in the impoverished one-party state.
Before last week’s arrest, a 30-year-old woman named Houayheuang Xayabouly was jailed for five years in November for defaming the country in complaints about the government response to floods in a Facebook Live video. And three Lao workers got long jail terms in 2017 for criticizing the government on Facebook while working in Thailand.
“People really understand the fact that Sangkhane’s arrest is not appropriate, right or fair. In Laos, corruption and power abuse is never-ending problem – even though the police arrest Sangkhane, other persons will follow his footsteps and will speak for him,” said an official with a Lao NGO.
“The Lao justice system--including the courts, police and prosecutor-are not trustworthy in the eyes of Lao people. The judiciary system does not offer justice,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.
Sangkhane was arrested last Wednesday at his house in the Bachieng Chareunsouk district of Champassack province and is being detained at Bang Yor jail in the province’s Pakse district, authorities confirmed.
Police officers are investigating Sangkhane and we will make the outcome public, Lt Col Bounsong of Champassak police headquarters told RFA’s Lao Service.
“The policemen are investigating whether or not Sangkhane is associated to an anti-government group of overseas Laotians,” a source close to prison authorities told RFA. The source did not identify the group or refer to any crime.
Another police officer told RFA: “Sangkhane’s relatives called me and they would like to send him food and water. The police on duty at jail confirmed his detention so that his relatives can bring him food at the jail.”
Laos has been run by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party since 1975 and the communist government brooks no opposition in any form.
“The detention of Thitsy shows that communist Laos never stops violating the human rights of its people -- especially the right of expression and other universal basic rights enshrined in the Universal Human Rights Declaration that the Lao government has signed,” Vanida Thepsouvanh, chairwoman of the Paris-based Lao Movement for Human Rights, told RFA.
“Police arrested Thitsy because he did the wrong thing by criticizing the state system,” a Lao villager said.
“That they don’t like, so he was arrested, and the prosecutor office will sentence him.”
A second villager from Champassack said Sangkhane’s mistake was leaving a digital trail on Facebook.
“Everyone who criticizes the state on Facebook will be arrested. If you have an issue of concern you should write letter to relevant authorities for a solution but not via Facebook,” he said.
“They will arrest you right away. They register people’s phone number,” said the villager, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely.
Washington-based Freedom House classified Laos as “not free” with a global freedom score of 14 out of 100 in its 2020 Freedom of the World survey. The Southeast Asian country scored 2 out of 40 in political rights, and 12 out of 60 in civil liberties.
Reported by RFA Lao service, Translated by Sidney Khotpanya and Ounkeo Souksavanh, Written in English by Paul Eckert.