Three Lao workers given long prison terms in April 2017 for criticizing their government while working in Thailand have been separated in prison, with one now sent to a separate facility in his hometown and the other two housed with other prisoners in the Lao capital, Lao sources say.
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.
Soukane Chaithad, aged 32 at the time of his arrest, has now been transferred to a prison called Keangkhane in Savannakhet province where his family lives, a relative of one of the detainees told RFA’s Lao Service in a recent interview.
Somphone Phimmasone, 29 when arrested, and his girlfriend Lod Thammavong, 30 when arrested, are still being held in Xamke prison in the Lao capital Vientiane, the relative said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“But they are being held with other prisoners, and their relatives can visit them each month,” he said, adding, “Now they are no longer locked in dark cells.”
Also speaking to RFA, a Lao civil society organization official slammed the sentences handed to the three, calling their prosecution and treatment at trial unacceptable.
“Arresting these three Lao workers for criticizing the Lao government on Facebook is a restriction of their freedom of speech, which violates the basic rights of the people,” he said.
“It is unacceptable that they were prosecuted and sentenced to terms of over 10 years while they were denied lawyers and could not access legal services.”
Speaking at a U.N. review in July of the country’s rights record, Lao director general of law and international treaties Phoukong Sisoulath said that the jailing of the three workers had “nothing to do with the freedom of expression.”
Instead of returning to Laos to renew their passports, the three had come back to set up a clandestine network to incite protests against the government, he said.
“They committed criminal offenses under the law of the Lao [People’s Democratic Republic].”
Following its July 11-12 review in Geneva, Switzerland, of Laos’ rights record, the U.N. Human Rights Commission voiced strong concern over enforced disappearances, violations of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and prison conditions in the one-party communist state.
Reported and translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA's Lao Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.