Three Lao citizens arrested in March for criticizing their government and ruling party via social media while working in Thailand are being held in a jail in the capital Vientiane, where they are denied family visits while waiting to be tried, sources said.
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.
Police acknowledged in May that the three had been taken into custody in Laos’ Khammouane province and later transferred to Vientiane.
They are now detained at the Phonethan jail in Vientiane’s Sisatthanak district, Soukane’s father told RFA’s Lao Service.
“They are being held there for sure, because we can bring food to them there, though we are not allowed to meet with them,” Soukane’s father said.
“The police have told us that we will be able to see them sometime during the next few months after they have been tried and sentenced,” he said.
Reached by an RFA reporter for comment, Lt. Col. Phoumiphone Somsihapanya of the Ministry of Public Security’s intelligence department refused to discuss the case.
Lao journalists have been similarly discouraged from looking too closely into the matter, one local reporter told RFA.
“In the case of the three detained workers, I once asked the police for an interview and they told me to send them a letter requesting permission,” the reporter said.
“But when I sent it to them, they never replied,” he said.
Media controls in Laos have meanwhile been tightened even more as talks get under way at the 49th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, scheduled for July 21 through July 26 in Vientiane, one source working in the Lao media said.
“We are being restricted in our reporting on the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, and all news must come from press releases issued by the press department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“A few days ago, a ministry official accused one reporter from a Lao news agency of editing the content in a press release, and his report was taken off of their website,” he said.
Reported and translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.