Lao Democracy Activist Still Missing After a Year, as Thai Police Investigation ‘Stalls’

A Lao democracy activist who vanished under mysterious circumstances in Thailand last year is still missing, with Thai police saying no progress has been made in the investigation into his disappearance.

Od Sayavong, aged 34 at the time he went missing, disappeared in Bangkok on Aug. 26, 2019 after telling a roommate he would be home for dinner, Od’s roommate told RFA in an earlier report, adding that Od’s involvement in politics was the most likely reason for his disappearance.

“He had come out to protest against the [Lao] government, and most recently he had posted a video clip online criticizing the Lao government during the time of the ASEAN meetings in Thailand,” the roommate said.

Thai efforts to find answers to Od’s disappearance have now stalled, a police official at the Bung Kum police station in Bangkok told RFA’s Lao Service on Aug. 21, five days before the anniversary of Od’s disappearance.

“Our investigators have sent all the documents we have about this case to the government departments that are working on it, and U.N. officials also came to the station to talk to us about this,” the police official said.

“There has been no progress in this case for now,” he said.

Sunai Phasuk, an advisor in Thailand to the rights group Human Rights Watch, meanwhile voiced frustration at the lack of information on the disappearance of the missing Lao activist, who has been listed as a “person of concern” by the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR because of his advocacy for democracy and human rights in Laos.

“There has been no progress at all,” Sunai noted. “What’s happening?”

“Nothing has changed. His disappearance was reported to the police, but the investigation in this case is going nowhere,” Sunai said, adding that his office follows up on the case “from time to time” to see if the Thai police are doing their job.

‘Every reason to abduct’

The Lao government had every reason to abduct Od Sayavong, and the operation appears so far to have been a success, said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in the Asia-Pacific Region, speaking to RFA.

“But the Lao government has denied taking him, and no one saw them do it. They have not disclosed any information [about the case], and we don’t have any evidence either,” Robertson said.

Part of a group of Lao dissidents living in Bangkok, Od had taken part in a June 16, 2019 protest in the city calling for political freedoms and human rights in Laos, especially for the victims of government land grabs and dam collapses that have left hundreds stuck in poor housing without a way to earn a living.

He had also called for the release of three Lao workers given long prison terms in April 2017 for criticizing the government while working in Thailand, and for a U.N. investigation into the disappearance of rural development expert Sombath Somphone.

Sombath disappeared on Dec. 15, 2012, when police stopped him in his vehicle at a checkpoint on the outskirt of the Lao capital Vientiane. He was then transferred to another vehicle, according to a police surveillance video, and has not been heard from since.

Before his abduction, Sombath had challenged massive land deals negotiated by the government that had left thousands of rural Lao villagers homeless with little paid in compensation. The deals sparked rare popular protests in Laos, where political speech is tightly controlled.

Meanwhile, government officials in Laos denied any knowledge of Od Sayavong’s disappearance or current whereabouts.

“This guy disappeared in Thailand,” an official of the Lao Ministry of Public Security said, speaking to RFA, adding, “We’ll look into the case.”

“In the past, there were some people who defamed the government and opposed its policies, and the government would warn them not to defame others without any reason,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“That cannot be done here in Laos,” he said.

 

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