The family of a Polish citizen of Lao heritage jailed in Laos for criticizing the government has failed to file a court appeal before a deadline requesting that he be pardoned, an official from the Lao People’s Supreme Court in the capital Vientiane said Thursday.
Lao authorities sentenced Bounthanh Thammavong, a 52-year-old democracy activist, in September 2015 to nearly five years in prison under Article 65 of the penal code for “disseminating propaganda against the government with the intention of undermining the state” in a Facebook posting.
“His family is not in Laos and has not filed an appeal with the court for his pardon,” the official who declined to give his name told RFA’s Lao Service.
“The court informed them of their rights in fighting the justice process, but they did not contact the court, and now the time for filing an appeal has expired,” she said.
After the court issues a verdict, the accused has the right to file an appeal within 20 days, she said.
The official went on to say that Bounthanh must remain in jail in accordance with court’s decision until there is a change in his case and the Prison Department of the Ministry of Public Security considers any conditions under which his sentence can be reduced or grants him a pardon, she said.
Bounthanh’s wife, Barbara Paklak-Thammavong, who has submitted a request to Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to contact the Lao government about Bounthanh’s case, said officials from the Polish embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, have been visiting her husband in jail.
“I meet an official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs once a week to get an update on my husband,” Paklak-Thammavong, who is now in Poland with their two daughters, told RFA on Wednesday.
Paklak-Thammavong has been urging the Polish government to intervene in the matter by pressuring Laos for her husband’s release or transferring him to a prison in Poland.
Last October, a Lao Foreign Ministry official told RFA that although Laos and Poland have not signed an extradition treaty, the two governments could still agree to a prisoner transfer. But in Bounthanh’s case, he would have to serve one year of his sentence in Laos first before he could be transferred.
Bounthanh had been forced into exile from Laos and subsequently became a citizen of Poland, where he founded the Organization of Lao Students for Independence and Democracy.
He relocated to Laos in 2010 to run a business dealing with foreign investment after receiving assurances from Lao officials that he would not face arrest on his return.
Bounthanh’s case was the first under which a person was sentenced to jail time after a government decree that went into effect in October 2014 prohibiting online criticism of the government and the ruling communist party and setting out stiff penalties for netizens and internet service providers who violate controls.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.