Lao police shut down a benefit concert this week held to raise funds for a local school after objecting to a slogan found on T-shirts sold at the site, Lao sources said.
The concert, held on Oct. 14 in the Kaysone district of Savannakhet province in southern Laos, had run for only 40 minutes before police closed it down and attempted to detain a concert organizer found wearing a T-shirt carrying the slogan “No bribes for jobs!”
Police said they saw the slogan as a challenge to the “directives and policies” of the state in the one-party communist country, a concert organizer named Nang wrote on her Facebook page the next day.
“What is wrong with a T-shirt that says ‘No bribes for jobs!’”, Nang wrote. “I would like to know what government or party policies or directives this message contradicts.”
“The relevant officials had better explain this to me,” she wrote.
Speaking to RFA’s Lao Service on condition of anonymity, a Lao source said that citizens in the country have recently become very critical of government officials who require bribes to help applicants seeking state jobs.
“This has become a common topic for discussion. And Ms. Nang, who is outspoken on social media, has been running a campaign against the problem by producing T-shirts with the message ‘No bribes for jobs!’” he said.
Nang and Ther Una, a performer of traditional music who had headlined Sunday’s concert, had also embarrassed education officials by publishing videos showing the dilapidated state of the school, which was missing walls and equipment, for which they were raising funds, RFA’s source said.
Also writing on Facebook on Oct. 15, Ther Una said that if police had objected to the T-shirts being sold, they should just have taken the shirts away and not closed the show.
“It makes no sense that they should have shut us down because of the shirts,” he said, adding that the plainclothes police who had approached them had smelled strongly of alcohol.
No permission to proceed
Also speaking to RFA, police colonel Khamphone of the Savannakhet police said however that the concert had been closed by district police for going ahead without official permission.
“Even though the organizers had asked district authorities for permission to put on the show, they had no written official permission to proceed,” he said.
“Our team members had contacted district authorities to request permission,” performer Ther Una wrote on his Facebook page, “but they were unable to issue this because our request was submitted at 4:00 p.m., which was almost at the end of Friday office hours.”
Corruption among high-level officials in Laos has been so widespread that it has left many ordinary citizens frustrated and impoverished, sources say.
In 2017, Laos ranked 135 out of 180 countries on corruption in the nongovernmental organization Transparency International’s corruption perception index, which scores nations on how corrupt their public sectors are perceived to be.