The rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly remained severely restricted. State control of media and civil society was tightened as Laos hosted international meetings. Repression of human rights defenders continued. Two prisoners of conscience were released in March after being held for almost 17 years.
There was no progress in the investigation into the enforced disappearance in 2012 of a civil society member. The death penalty remained mandatory for serious drug offences.
The ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party appointed a new General Secretary and Politburo in its internal leadership ballot in January. National Assembly elections in March were followed by the appointment of a President and Prime Minister. Laos remained a one-party state.
UN Special Procedures expressed serious concerns about the potential impact of the Don Sahong Dam on the livelihood of millions of people in Laos and downstream countries, including the threat to rights to adequate food, housing, information and participation and the rights of Indigenous People.
Laos also held the Chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2016.
The fate of Sombath Somphone, a prominent civil society member, remained unclarified since his abduction in 2012 outside a police post in the capital, Vientiane. CCTV cameras captured his being stopped by police and driven away.
Authorities failed to provide information on the whereabouts of Kha Yang, a Lao ethnic Hmong, arrested after his second forced return from Thailand in 2011. He was also forcibly returned in 2009, although he had been granted refugee status by the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and fled back to Thailand in 2011.
Freedom of expression
Civil society organizations continued to be under stringent state control.
In January, a decree restricted the press activities of international media and other bodies. Provisions included a requirement to submit materials for state approval before publishing. In November the 2008 Media Law was amended to ensure that the media strictly adhered to and promoted government policies.
In line with Decree 327 which prohibits online criticism of the state, the authorities continued to monitor internet activity. In August a Public Security Ministry official stated that police were monitoring Facebook for anyone connected to three detained activists − Lodkham Thammavong, Somphone Phimmasone and Soukan Chaithad.
Laos cancelled its hosting of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum, citing insufficient funds and the risk of foreign civil society actors using the event to criticize ASEAN-member governments.
Human rights defenders
Lodkham Thammavong, Somphone Phimmasone and Soukan Chaithad were arrested in March after returning from Thailand. Reports indicated they were detained incommunicado for at least six months and denied legal representation.1 They were accused of threatening national security in relation to online criticism of the Lao government while in Thailand. They had also participated in a peaceful demonstration outside the Lao Embassy in Bangkok in 2015. In May, state television showed them apologizing for their actions and confessing to protesting against government policies. Somphone Phimmasone’s family visited him briefly in jail in September. All three individuals remained in detention at the end of the year.
Reports of land disputes between the state and individuals continued. Mechanisms for resolving land complaints were inadequate.
- Laos: Three Lao activists held incommunicado (ASA 26/4603/2016)