Two Lao villagers detained for almost two years without trial for protesting the loss of land awarded by the government to a Vietnamese rubber company are now seriously ill in jail, a local source says.
In July 2017, 15 residents of Yeub village in Sekong’s Thateng district were taken into custody for obstructing workers and cutting down trees on their former land, with several beaten or subjected to electric shocks in the days following their arrest.
Four members of the group have since been released, with another reported to have died in custody last year, sources told RFA in earlier reports. Ten others remain in detention.
Two of the villagers still in custody, Souvanh and a villager named Nay, are now in failing health due to the harsh conditions in their jail, a local villager told RFA’s Lao Service this week.
“Souvanh’s body, legs, and arms are swollen, while Nay suffers from a stomach problem and is passing blood,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Nay had been taken earlier by police for medical treatment, but is now again behind bars, the source said.
Souvanh and Nay are now confined with two others in a district police security division jail in Laman district, with six others held at Ban Mo Jail, a provincial police security division facility also in Laman, RFA’s source said.
Souvanh, who is regarded by police as the group’s leader, is being held apart from the others in a separate cell, he added.
Call for release
Speaking to RFA, Vanida Thepsouvanh—president of the Lao Movement for Human Rights, based in France—called on the government of Laos to “immediately and unconditionally” release the 10 Sekong villagers still in jail.
“We recall with great sadness that one has already died in prison,” Thepsouvanh said.
“The remaining prisoners, most of them from the Brou ethnic minority, who are suffering from poor nutrition and harsh treatment and are confined in dark cells, have serious health problems and could lose their life at any moment,” she said.
“As we have said before, these persons would not have been arrested if they were living in a country where rule of law prevails.”
Land grabs and the appropriation of public property to turn over to foreign and domestic companies are common in Laos, and villagers affected by them often refuse to speak out publicly because they fear retribution.
Reported and translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.