Former Lao Soccer Club Boss Meets Police Over Facebook Posts, But no Action Taken

The popular president of a Lao soccer club who quit her post last month after being accused of defaming the country's football federation held talks with police this week about restrictions on social media comments but no action was taken against her, a Lao source familiar with the case said.

Phijika Boonkwang, president of the Vientiane Football United club, had criticized the condition of the road leading up to the federation headquarters 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 on Aug. 29.

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 on Sept. 7, ordering her to appear for discussions, and she met with an officer on Sept. 12, the sources said.

At the meeting on Wednesday, the officer asked Boonkwang to address the football federation claims that she had defamed the federation by showing and complaining about the poor condition of the road leading to the federation.

The source familiar with the case said Boonkwang, acknowledged posting the complaint on Facebook Live, but said she did not have any intention to defame the federation.

Boonkwang was also accused of criticizing a senior soccer official who is the son-in-law of a former president of Laos, effectively putting herself in conflict with the former state leader, but she told the police she would never fight against him, the sources said.

In a chat with an RFA Lao Service reporter on Facebook, Boonkwang said she was not warned against future Facebook Live posts.

They just wanted to talk with me about some issues, she wrote.

Boonkwang, who had stopped doing live Facebook talks for five days after being summoned to police on Sept. 7, returned to the social media platform, saying she missed her followers, but she did not discuss the dispute with the soccer federation and the involvement of police.

Laos, a one-party communist state that brooks no opposition and allows no media freedom, 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.

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