30 June 2003
PARIS — Reporters Without Borders voiced shock and outrage at the 15-year prison sentences passed by a Laotian court today on Belgian reporter Thierry Falise and French cameraman Vincent Reynaud for “obstructing the exercise of authority.”
The sentences were handed down by a court in Phonesavanh, in the northeastern province de Xien Khouang, at the end of a two-hour trial. An American pastor of Laotian origin who was the journalists’ interpreter, Rev. Naw Karl Mua, received the same sentence. It was not immediately known what sentences were passed on the four Laotians who were accompanying them.
“We are astounded by the severity of these sentences,” said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard. “This travesty of a trial, in which the fate of the two journalists was determined in advance, demonstrates the totalitarian nature of the Laotian regime,” Ménard said.
Reporters Without Borders called on the United States to freeze negotiations under which Laos could have been granted trade preferences. The organisation also called on European countries and the European Union to take significant measures against Laos, and on the International Organisation of French-Speaking Countries to sanction Laos under the Bamako accords.
Falise, Reynaud, the American pastor and the four Laotians were arrested on 4 June in Xieng Khouang province as they were finishing a report on the Hmong mountain people, some of whom continue to support an insurrection against the communist government that dates back to the time of the Vietnam war. The American is a member of the Hmong minority. They were reportedly caught in an ambush between Hmong combatants and Laotian army troops. Falise is a regular contributor to the French news weekly L’Express.