Rights groups called on Laos this week to free a Lao blogger arrested a year ago and jailed for five years for criticizing the government’s handling of floods in a Facebook post, saying she did not deserve punishment for expressing her opinions online.
Houayheuang Xayabouly, 30, also known by her nickname Mouay, was arrested Sept. 12, 2019, a week after she voiced her concern about the government response to flooding in the country’s southern Champassak and Salavan provinces in a Facebook Live video.
The delayed government response had left many Lao villagers stranded and cut off from help, she said in the video, which was viewed more than 150,000 times.
When she was sentenced in November to five years under Article 117 of Laos’ Criminal Code, state media reported she confessed to her crime in detention. A Champassak official told RFA at the time that Mouay was “guilty of campaigning against, defaming, and attempting to overthrow the party, state, and government.”
“Lao authorities should release Mouay and apologize to her and her family for jailing her,” Phil Robertson—deputy director of the Asia-Pacific region for Human Rights Watch—told RFA’s Lao Service Monday.
“She did nothing to deserve her punishment. She only expressed her opinion, and the Lao government should have listened and responded to this, and not jailed her,” Robertson said, adding that he is concerned about Mouay’s health and living conditions the Champassak provincial jail, where she is being held.
Bounthone Chanthavong-Wiese, president of the Germany-based Alliance for Democracy in Laos, noted that Mouay has already been in jail for a year. “I want to demand that the Lao [People’s Democratic Republic] government free Mouay immediately, because she did nothing that would have harmed the country.”
Also speaking to RFA, former Thai Human Rights Commission member Angkana Nilapaijit said all that Mouay did “was to exercise her rights as a human being and exercise her freedom,” while a Thai-based Lao activist noted that anyone convicted of a political crime in Laos “will be punished forever.”
“Even after being released, you will never be totally free. You will be held under house arrest and closely monitored,” the activist said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Attempts by RFA to reach Mouay’s family members and the Champassak Police Department for comment met with no response.
Others also held
Other Lao Facebook users have been detained and jailed on similar charges, including three young Lao workers who criticized the Lao government in Facebook postings while living in Thailand.
Somphone Phimmasone, Lod Thammavong, and Soukan Chaithad disappeared in March 2016 after returning to Laos to renew their passports.
Charged with criticizing the Lao government online while working abroad, the three were sentenced in a secret trial to terms ranging from 12 to 20 years in rulings described as harsh and unjust by rights groups worldwide.
Last month, Sangkhane Phachanvanthong became the latest known victim of a government that locks up citizens who post popular gripes and mild criticism on Facebook about graft and abuses in the impoverished one-party state.
Sangkhane “Thitsy” Phachanthavong was arrested at his home in southern Laos on Aug. 26 and is being questioned in jail about links to “an anti-government group of overseas Laotians,” police sources told RFA.
The arrest on Aug. 26 of was condemned by human rights groups.
In June 2019, a Lao resident of Poland named Bounthanh Thammavong was released from prison after serving a four-year term for saying on Facebook that there was no press freedom in Laos.
In an annual survey of press freedom released in April, Laos was ranked 172 out of 180 countries for 2019 by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) which said the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party “exercises total control over the media.”
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