Interview: ‘The voice of the people can change a country’

A Lao activist granted asylum in Canada says he will continue to work for human rights in his country.
2022.03.17
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Interview: ‘The voice of the people can change a country’ Khoukham Keomanivong is shown in an undated photo taken in Canada.
Photo provided by Khoukham Keomanivong

Khoukham Keomanivong, a Lao worker and member of the Free Lao Movement, was arrested by Thai police in Bangkok on Jan. 29, 2022 for overstaying his visa, and was released on bail on Feb. 1 with the help of a human rights lawyer. Now living in Canada, the advocate for human rights and democracy in Laos recently spoke with RFA’s Lao Service about what he’s doing now and his plans for the future. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

RFA: How are you feeling?

Khoukham (KK): I’m feeling relieved, out of danger and out of the unsafe zone. Now, I’m focusing on adjusting to the new environment here in Canada. I’m not feeling well now. I have a fever. But the Canadian authorities are taking care of me. First, I’m quarantining for 14 days, so I’m staying here by myself and I’m kind of lonely. But the most important thing is that I’m in a safe place and in a free country now. I think nobody will restrict my freedoms anymore.

RFA: Who’s sponsoring you, and what are you planning to do in the near future?

KK: My sponsor is the Canadian central government. I’m planning to study and maybe work at the same time. The Canadian government will be providing assistance to me for one year, covering all my expenses. And after that one year I should have completed my studies and be able to help myself and be on my own.

RFA: Do you have any plans to resume your role as an activist regarding the problems in Laos?

KK: Deep in my heart, I’m still the same person, and in whatever country I live — free or not — I’ll continue to speak out and express myself about my native country. I think that is a basic human right. I might come out one day and be just as critical as I was before, because here in Canada I don’t have to be afraid of anyone anymore. It’s our right to speak out. We know that our country, Laos, is not doing well. If my country was as developed or even more developed than other countries in ASEAN, I would be the first person to praise the Lao government. But right now our country is still poor, so I still have some work to do.

When I talk to other people and tell them I’m from Laos, they don’t even know where Laos is. Why is that? It’s because Laos is still undeveloped. Our leaders’ role on the international stage is negligible, so it seems to me that our country is still inferior in the eyes of other countries. We must do whatever we can to bring about change.

RFA: What are you going to do?

KK: I’m 38 years old, so I’m still relatively young, and I can make use of social media. This can be a mouthpiece for the new generation to share comments and experiences. Social media is an important channel for communication in every country in the world. People don’t take up arms or use violence to create change these days. That era is over. The voice of the people can change a country, and this is the way I prefer, the peaceful way. I’m still single, so I can do this again at any time.

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