The popular president of a Lao soccer club who quit her job in tears last week after being accused of defaming the country was summoned by police on Friday for talks aimed at clarifying restrictions on what she may post on her Facebook page, Lao sources said.
Phijika Boonkwang, president of the Vientiane Football United club, had criticized the condition of a local road in a live Facebook video on Aug. 25, and after learning she had been banned from the sport for 90 days, resigned her position in another Facebook video four days later.
On Sept. 5, Lao National Football Federation sent a letter to police authorities asking that Phijika, who they said had been “angered” by the action taken against her, be investigated for “continuing to conduct inappropriate activities” on social media.
Police then sent her a letter, ordering her to appear for discussions at their department on Sept. 11.
Sobbing in a new video on Sept. 7 on her Facebook page, Phijika said she now fears being thrown into jail.
Speaking to RFA’s Lao Service on Friday, police Lt. Col. Xayaphone Duangvilay called the summons “nothing serious,” adding, “We just want to make sure that [Phijika] understands our rules regarding what one can or can’t post on social media in this country.”
“She just has to come to the police station so that we can talk to clear up some misunderstandings.”
Also speaking to RFA, a Lao soccer fan called the Federation and police action “inappropriate.”
“There are better ways of dealing with this,” the man said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The Federation should just talk to her and warn her not to go on Facebook live to say things like this again.”
“This is very threatening. The police should not be involved,” a lawyer in the capital Vientiane added, also speaking to RFA on condition he not be named.
“They should show her more compassion, and they should heed her comments and improve the road conditions. The way the police are handling this is too negative,” he said.
Laos, a one-party communist state, is highly sensitive to public criticisms of conditions in the country, and has dealt harshly with cases of what it considers statements damaging the country’s reputation in the past.
Three young Lao migrant workers who returned from Thailand to Laos in March 2016 to renew their passports were charged with criticizing the Lao government online while working abroad, and were later handed prison terms ranging from 12 to 20 years at a secret trial in April 2017.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.