Seven dissidents from Laos who raided a checkpoint along the border with Thailand 11 years ago to publicize their dissatisfaction with their communist government continue to languish in jail under appalling conditions, according to one of the activists who has been released.
"Their morale is low and their health is in bad shape," said Phaysarn Linthong, who was freed in July and has since emigrated to Thailand.
"We had all thought we would get foreign support to back our cause, but nobody came to our help," he told RFA, speaking for the first time since his release.
The seven are among 16 dissidents who were deported to Laos from Thailand after they had joined more than 30 armed men, including 11 Thais, in staging a raid on a Lao border checkpoint on July 3, 2000 to highlight their opposition to the Lao government in Vientiane.
The men, calling themselves "freedom fighters," had put up a royal flag at the Chong Mek-Vang Tao crossing and demanded an end to decades of communist rule and the restoration of the constitutional monarchy in Laos.
The Thai government under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra ordered their deportation despite a Bangkok court order rejecting a request from Vientiane for the extradition of the 16.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had expressed concern over the deportation and the refusal by the Thai authorities to grant it access to the 16 rebels after they applied for refugee status.
Bang Yo prison
Linthong, among nine dissidents who had been released, said all of them were held at the Bang Yo prison in Pakse district, Champassak Province.
He said he had met while in prison with the seven, who still have five more years to serve their full jail term.
"The prison was overcrowded and dirty and that's why all of us are in poor health," said the 45-year-old Linthong, looking weak and fragile. "We were forced to work and fed twice daily with very small portions of cooked rice and catfish."
"About 500 to 600 prisoners had to share one or two kilograms of fish," he lamented.
"Because of my physical condition, I am unable to find a job," he said, adding however that he was glad to be reunited with his family who had been living in Thailand while he was in jail.
Most of the relatives of the 16 had been residing in Thailand's Ubon Ratchathani province.
Reported by RFA's Lao service. Translated by Viengsay Luangkhot. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.