Lao authorities must urgently launch an investigation into the attack on a human rights defender who was shot in a cafe over the weekend, Amnesty International said today.
Anousa “Jack” Luangsouphom’s social media posts about human rights issues in Laos amassed a large following. Believed to be 25 years old, he was shot by an unidentified person at a coffee shop in the Chanthabuly district of the Laos capital Vientiane on Saturday, 29 April.
Amnesty International confirmed from a credible source that Jack survived the shooting, following earlier reports that he had been killed.
“Lao authorities must urgently launch a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the brazen shooting of a young activist who dared to speak out about human rights issues in the country. No human rights defenders should be violently targeted for their work,” said Joe Freeman, Amnesty International’s Interim Deputy Regional Director for Communications.
Jack has been a vocal critic of the Lao government and society. He ran two Facebook pages, “Driven by the Keyboard” and “Sor Tor Lor – the Republic”. Both pages feature posts on a wide range of social, environmental, economic and political issues in Laos, such as haze pollution, the human rights of school children and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) rights.
Footage of the shooting has been posted by Laophattana Daily News, a state-affiliated media outlet, and shared widely by social media users on Facebook and Twitter. As of 2 May, Lao authorities have not identified the perpetrator despite the available footage.
Laos is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to life under its Article 6 and the right to freedom of expression under Article 19. But the government controls nearly all the media and has a history of repression against human rights defenders.
“The international community and UN agencies must demand that Lao authorities ensure the full protection of human rights defenders,” Amnesty’s Joe Freeman said.
Jack is a prominent human rights defender in Laos. The “Driven by the Keyboard” Facebook page has more than 41,000 followers, whereas “Sor Tor Lor – the Republic” has more than 6,800 followers.
Independent activism and human rights advocacy are extremely risky in Laos, and some cases involving attacks on human rights defenders have gone unsolved for years. On 15 December 2012, civil society leader Sombath Somphone was taken away in a truck by unknown persons after being stopped by police in Vientiane. He has not been seen or heard from since.
Amnesty International also documented the arrest of three Lao human rights activists — Soukan Chaithad, Lodkham Thammavong and Somphone Phimmasone — in March 2016 after they participated in a peaceful demonstration outside the Lao embassy in Bangkok in December 2015.
They had also posted messages on Facebook criticizing the Laos government over its record on corruption, deforestation and human rights violations. The trio were sentenced to between 12 and 20 years in prison in a secret trial in April 2017. Following the verdict, Amnesty International called for an immediate and unconditional release of the activists.
On 29 August 2019, Od Sayavong, a former member of the “Free Lao” group, which works on human rights, corruption and environmental issues in Laos, disappeared in Bangkok. He was living in exile in Thailand after he met with the then-UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, on 15 March 2019, prior to Alston’s visit to Laos. In September 2022, the UN Secretary-General indicated that Od’s disappearance constituted an act of potential reprisal for his engagement with a UN human rights mechanism.
*Amnesty International has updated this statement from an earlier version after confirming that Jack survived the shooting.