Call for Prime Minister to stop attacks on government critics

[Original title: Call for Laos Prime Minister to stop attacks on government critics]

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) is writing to you to express our deep concern over eroding situation of freedom of expression in Laos over the past year.

After the abrupt cancellation of news talk show program, Wao Kao, the country’s only live-call-in radio news program, on Lao National Radio last January for unclear reasons, came the expulsion of Swiss aid development Helvetas country director Anne-Sophie Grindroz for expressing critical views about the lack of freedom of expression on 7 December. One week later, we received news of the disappearance of Magsaysay award recipient and Lao development worker Sombath Somphone, who has yet to be found after more than a month.

SEAPA considers these first two incidents as acts of impunity committed by the state against the media and NGO workers, who are exercising or facilitating the rights to freedom of opinion of Lao peoples. Additionally, we are concerned with the apparent lack of urgency by the government in investigating the Sombath disappearance. Taken together, we believe that these incidents point to an escalating crackdown on criticisms of the state on the issue of land rights and sustainable development.

This climate bodes ill for Laos where the unprecedented social impact from rapid economic development is taking its toll on the Lao people and society—especially in a situation wherein no independent media is allowed to scrutinize and air these concerns.

We take serious note that these incidents, particularly the last two happened after the adoption of the ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights (ADHR), which Your Excellency has signed with other leaders. The document is supposed to signify the common commitment of governments in the region to protect and promote human rights, and we raise this concern in this spirit, as fellow ASEAN citizens.

In acceding to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) on 25 September 2009, Lao PDR is obliged to fully implement all the provisions including rights to freedom of expression opinion under the Article 19.

For this matter, we urge the government of the Lao PDR to take serious efforts to address the situation through the following:

  • Reinstating the Wao Kao news talk program in its original format on Lao National Radio
  • Providing space for meaningful participation of civil society organization in the state and multilateral forums on development policy and planning
  • Making serious effort and regularly reporting to the public on the investigation on the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, with the aim of his safe return to this work and family.

(Note: This call was sent to the office of the Lao Prime Minister as an open letter (view pdf version)