Rights Group Fears for Dissidents Freed in Laos

2004-11-05
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BANGKOK—Amnesty International says it has no independent confirmation of the Lao government’s claim to have freed two leading dissidents in October. The London-based human rights group also voiced fears for the state of their health.

Feng Sakchittaphong and Latsamy Khamphoui were jailed in 1990 for writing letters calling for peaceful political and economic change in Laos. After two years in pre-trial detention, they were convicted in November 1992 and sentenced to 14-years’ imprisonment.

"We had been informed by the Lao government that they were released on Oct. 6, and that their potential departure for medical treatment in France was being considered," Daniel Alberman, Amnesty International researcher for Southeast Asia, told RFA’s Lao service. "But we do not know where they are at the present time."

Not yet come home

"We know that they’re not with their families back in Vientiane... We know that they’re both ill, and we know that there are discussions going on," Alberman said.

"We do not know where they are exactly at the present time. We are indeed concerned about their health."

"We are indeed concerned about their health because of their advanced age and their bad health," Alberman said, adding that Amnesty would closely monitor the fate of the two dissidents.

During their sentences, Feng Sakchittaphong and Latsamy Khamphoui were held in conditions recognized as cruel, inhuman, or degrading by the United Nations Committee against Torture, according to Amnesty.

Both suffer from angina and kidney problems but received scant medical attention.

They were held in darkness, given insufficient food, and only allowed to bathe once every one or two weeks. Family visits were rare and tightly controlled, the group said.

Death in prison camp

Former government official Thongsouk Saysangkhi was sentenced with Feng Sakchittaphong and Latsamy Khamphoui.

The trio served their time at Prison Camp 7 in Houa Phanh, a remote province in the northeast of the country where conditions were especially harsh. Thongsouk Saysangkhi died in custody on Feb. 9, 1998.

According to the most recent State Department report on human rights around the world, most Lao trials in 2003 were "little more than pro forma examinations of the accused, with a verdict having already been reached."

"Most criminal trials reportedly ended in convictions. Defendants were sometimes barred from testifying on their own behalf. Trials for alleged violations of some criminal laws relating to national security and trials that involved state secrets, children under the age of 16, or certain types of family law were closed."

"In some instances, police administratively overruled court decisions, at times detaining a defendant exonerated by the court, in violation of the law," the State Department report said.

And while the Lao Constitution and Penal Code prohibit torture, "members of the security forces subjected prisoners to torture and other abuses."

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