The wife of a jailed Polish citizen of Lao heritage has asked Poland’s justice ministry to request the Lao government to transfer her husband from a detention center in the Southeast Asian nation to one in his European home country.
Barbara Paklak-Thammavong told RFA’s Laos Service on Monday that she wrote a letter to Poland’s Ministry of Justice last week, just after a Lao court had sentenced her husband, Bounthanh Thammavong, to nearly five years in prison for criticizing the Lao government online.
“I wrote a letter to the Polish Ministry of Justice,” she said. “I want them to make an agreement with the Lao government to put him in a Polish jail.”
The 52-year-old democracy activist was arrested in June and charged with “disseminating propaganda against the government with the intention of undermining the state” under Article 65 of the penal code after police found evidence connecting him to the Facebook posting during a search of his home in the capital Vientiane.
On Sept. 18, the Vientiane Supreme Court sentenced him to four years and nine months in jail.
Paklak-Thammavong said she had turned to the Polish justice ministry after she had contacted the Polish embassy in Vientiane for help because Bounthanh had not been given access to a lawyer or represented by one during his trial.
The Polish embassy tried to help Bounthanh, she said, but the ambassador could only speak with him for about two minutes after the court had sentenced him.
“Bounthanh asked the ambassador to help him return to Poland and asked our government to make an agreement with the Lao government to take him to a Polish jail,” said Paklak-Thammavong, a Polish national who married Bounthanh in 1993.
The couple has two daughters ages 10 and 14.
Prisoner transfer possible
Although Laos and Poland have not signed an extradition treaty, the two governments could still agree to a prisoner transfer, said a Lao foreign ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity.
But in Bounthanh’s case, he would have to serve one year of his sentence in Laos first before he could be extradited, he told RFA.
“An extradition can be done after the court has sentenced someone, and the convicted person does not appeal and serves at least one year in jail,” the official said.
“If the Polish government would like to sign a treaty [on extraditions] with the Lao government, it can propose this to the Lao government, which will spend a year considering it,” he said. “But more importantly, the prisoner must be in jail [in Laos] for one year.”
The Lao government has such extradition agreements in place with Great Britain and Thailand, he added.
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.
He used to visit his wife and daughters in Poland twice a year before he was arrested.
Reported by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.