Three Lao workers arrested last year for criticizing their government on Facebook while working in Thailand are still in custody with no resolution of their case in sight, prompting calls from friends and human rights groups for their release.
Somphone Phimmasone, 29, his girlfriend Lod Thammavong, 30, and Soukane Chaithad, 32, disappeared in March 2016 after returning to Laos to renew their passports, their family and friends told RFA in earlier reports.
While working in Thailand, the three had strongly criticized the Lao government online, accusing it of human rights abuses, and they were later shown on Lao television making what appeared to be public confessions for what they called the mistake of protesting the country’s policies.
Friends and supporters meanwhile continue to call for their release.
“I want to urge the government to free these three people, because they shouldn’t have been arrested,” a close friend of the imprisoned workers told RFA’s Lao Service, speaking from Thailand.
“They only held dissenting opinions. They didn’t use or call for violence [against the state],” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Here in Thailand, we are going to write a letter to the U.N. asking them to press the Lao government to release these friends of ours,” the source said.
Present conditions unknown
Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, meanwhile called on the government of Laos to publicly reveal what is now happening in the case against the three workers, adding “there is no real way for us to learn the conditions they are being held under.”
“What is clear is that Laos intends to treat them quite harshly, and teach a lesson to other Lao migrant workers overseas to do nothing to oppose the government,” Robertson said in a statement this week.
“The only hope that these three imprisoned activists have now is if the U.N. or bilateral foreign aid donors take up their cases and demand the authorities immediately release them,” Robertson said.
Speaking last week to RFA, a close family member of one of the three workers said that parents of the three are unable to visit them as often as they would like, citing lack of money for transportation to the prison where they are being held.
“Another reason is that whenever they go, they learn nothing new about their children’s cases,” the relative said.
“The authorities keep telling them to wait, saying, ‘This is a political case. It’s up to those at higher levels to make the appropriate decisions.’”
Reported and translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.