Human Rights

Asking for release ຮຽກຮ້ອງເພື່ອປ່ອຍໂຕ

Asking for release ຮຽກຮ້ອງເພື່ອປ່ອຍໂຕ

Miss Xayabouly Houayheuang
Arrested: Pakse, Champasak, LAOS on September 12, 2019
Case: Freedom of Expression

ນາງ ຮ່ວາຍເຮືອງ ໄຊຍະບູລີ
(ນາງ ຫມວຍ ຫມູນ້ອຍ)
ຖືກຈັບທີ່: ປາເຊ, ຈຳປາສັກ
ວັນທີ 12 ເດືອນ 9, 2019

Lao Authorities Arrest Woman for Criticizing Flood Relief Efforts on Facebook

A woman in Laos was arrested last week on charges of defaming the country after she posted criticism on Facebook of the slow government response to severe floods in the country’s southern provinces, sources say.

Houayheuang Xayabouly, 30, criticized the government for delaying their rescue effort, leaving many victims still trapped in areas cut off by floodwaters.

A source familiar with her case told RFA’s Lao Service she was arrested on Thursday and is in custody in Champassak province.

“The police confirmed her arrest and she’s now being detained in the Champassak provincial jail,” the source said on Friday.

“She is not allowed to meet anyone yet because the police are still investigating her,” said the source.

The criticism was posted in a Facebook Live video, where she complained about delays in rescuing victims in Champassak and Salavan provinces on September 5.

“She was arrested because she was critical of local authorities for the delay, [saying] they left the flooded villagers to their own devices,” said a source, who lives in Houayheuang Xayabouly’s neighborhood.

The police of the provincial investigation unit filed a report to the provincial prosecutor Thursday confirming the arrest and charges.

Her family applied at Champassak’s Phonethong district police station Monday to have her released on bail, but an officer there told RFA the decision to grant bail must go through the provincial police station.

“We have no idea if the relevant authorities, including the provincial police and prosecutors will allow her out on bail. She’s been charged with defaming the Lao PDR as well as the party and the state, which goes against Article 117 of Criminal Law,” said the officer.

The arrest came a little more than a week after a Lao man working in Thailand disappeared after criticizing his country’s government online and in public protests.

Od Sayavong, 34, vanished on Aug. 26 after telling a roommate that he would be home for dinner.

Part of a group of Lao dissidents living in Bangkok, Od had taken part in a June 16 protest in the city calling for political freedoms and human rights in Laos, especially for the victims of government land grabs and dam collapses that have left hundreds stuck in poor housing without a way to earn a living.

He had also called for the release of three Lao workers given long prison terms in April 2017 for criticizing their government while working in Thailand.

Rights groups chime in

According to a press release from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Article 117 punishes with prison terms of one to five years and a fine of five to 20 million Kip (approximately US$570 to US$2,280) anyone who conducts “propaganda activities against and slandering the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, […] or circulating false rumors causing disorder by words, in writing, through print, newspapers, motion pictures, videos, photographs, documents or other media which are detrimental to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic or are for the purpose of undermining or weakening State authority.”

FIDH expressed disappointment that authorities arrested Houayheuang Xayabouly for exercising her right to freedom of speech.

“It is absolutely shocking and unacceptable that the authorities have arrested this local woman just because she was calling for victims of this disaster to get further assistance,” FIDH Secretary-General Debbie Stothard told RFA’s Lao Service.

“She was simply trying to get help for her community and it is ridiculous and horrifying that the Laos government has done this to her,” she added.

Meanwhile, Konakok Thadam, an official at Amnesty International’s Thailand office, told RFA, “Houayheuang Xayabouly has the basic right to express her opinion in support of rescuing people from the flooding crisis. She is not intentionally trying to overthrow the government.”

Critical opinion

Houayheuang Xayabouly’s 17-minute-long Facebook Live video on September 5 was viewed 150,000 times.

In the video, she said, “In this emergency situation, I am not in need of food and water yet, but yesterday [September 4], a huge flood came and people here were up on the roofs of their houses trying to escape. Where is the helicopter for rescuing those people?”

“I cannot be silent as we have been in the past. The era of the regime keeping the eyes and mouths of the people closed has come to an end,” she added.

While the government says it is doing what it can to assist victims of the flood, many have gone without any help.

A villager in Salavan province’s Khongsdone district said that even days into the flooding “villagers have not received any relief from authorities.”

Another villager in Champassak’s Sanansomboun district reported that nearly 600 villagers were on their own after the flooding, surviving in the jungle for three days without any help after fleeing to the mountains.

The flood in Laos’ southern provinces was preceded by a prolonged drought. Experts have said that climate change is likely responsible for longer dry periods and more severe storms in the Mekong region.

Estimates by the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance suggest that 572,000 people have been affected by the flood. As of September 11, at least 14 people have lost their lives in the floods.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

Laos State Media: Woman Arrested for Criticizing Government on Facebook Confesses

Lao state media reported Tuesday that a woman who was arrested in Laos last week for criticizing the government on Facebook has confessed to her crime.

In a Facebook Live video last week, Houayheuang Xayabouly, known by her nickname Mouay, had slammed the Lao government’s slow response to severe floods in Laos’ southern provinces.

She was arrested Thursday on charges of defaming the country according to Article 117 of Laos’ Criminal Code, and is being held in the Champassak provincial jail.

The state-run Vientiane Times on Tuesday published an article with the headline “Mouay Confesses to Campaign Against Lao P.D.R.”

In that article, Lt. Col. Phaijit Xayadeth, the deputy commander of the Champassak Police Department said that Mouay’s confession followed an investigation and interrogation.

“Houayheuang Xayabouly, who has been detained since September 12, 2019, has confessed to illegal activity and having connections with ‘bad elements’ both in the country and abroad,” he said.

The officer described the law Mouay broke and potential consequences, saying, “According to Article 117, anyone who defames the Lao PDR by twisting policy of the Party and Government, publishing bad news, or creating disorder by speaking, writing, publishing pictures or documents, creating film or video, or using electronic media will be fined between five million and 20 million kip [$567-$2270] and jailed for one to five years.”

Mouay’s family applied to have her released on bail at their local police station Monday. Officers there sent the application to the provincial police station to make a final determination on bail, which is rarely granted to prisoners in Laos.

A police officer at the Champassak police station told RFA Tuesday that Mouay’s application might have a chance, however.

“The department may grant her bail because the application has been signed and the bail amount has been set,” the officer said, elaborating that the bail amount would be 100 million kip, or about $11,000, more than four times the country’s 2018 GDP per capita of $2,720.

International response

Andrea Giorgetta from the Bangkok office of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) told RFA’s Lao Service that the threat of a lengthy prison sentence was not surprising.

“In Laos, the threat of long prison terms for those who criticize the authorities is very real, so silence, prison, or exile are the only three options available for those who don’t like the government,” he said.

Giorgetta also expressed dismay that Mouay’s confession came without the presence of a lawyer, but said this too was typical of Laos’ justice system.

“I don’t think anybody has a reasonable expectation that defendants in criminal cases that involve criticism of the government have ever received legal assistance and were assisted by a lawyer. We know that in previous cases none of the defendants received legal assistance despite what the government claims,” he said.

The Alliance for Democracy in Laos released a statement demanding Mouay’s release. “We regard [her] criticism as legitimate, as it had shown itself to be constructive through its self-initiated aid to catastrophes and thus proved its honorable intentions for the country,” the statement said.

FIDH and the Lao Movement for Human rights also published a joint press release stating, “The Lao government must stop persecuting its citizens for peacefully exercising their fight for freedom of opinion and expression.”

Reported and translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

Woman Held For ‘Defaming’ Laos is Refused Family Visits

A Lao woman arrested on Sept. 12 on charges of defaming the country is still being kept from seeing family members until completion of a police investigation into her activities, sources told RFA’s Lao Service on Thursday.

Houayheuang Xayabouly, 30, was arrested on Sept. 12 after she posted criticism on Facebook of the slow government response to floods on Sept. 5 in the country’s southern Champassak and Salavan provinces, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

The delayed government response had left many Lao villagers stranded and cut off from help, Houayheuang, also called Mouay, said in her Sept. 5 Facebook Live video, which was viewed more than 150,000 times.

Speaking to RFA’s Lao Service, a close friend said that relatives and friends have not been allowed to visit Mouay in detention, adding, “The authorities are still in the process of investigating and interrogating her.”

Efforts by family members to have Mouay released on bail have also stalled, her brother said. “It’s been quiet. I don’t know whether my bail application has been granted or not.”

More information will be made available after police have finished their questioning in the case, a police officer in Champassak province, where Mouay is being held, told RFA.

“Once the investigation is complete, and when [the police] are ready, we will have a press conference and will invite everyone, including the media,” he said.

Champassak police had earlier announced that a press conference would be held on Sept. 18, but that conference was postponed, sources said.

Threat of long prison term

On Sept. 17, Lao state media reported that Mouay had confessed to the crime of defaming Laos and of having connections with “bad elements” inside the country and abroad.

Under Article 117 of the Lao penal code, she now faces a possible fine of between five million and 20 million kip (U.S.$567-$2270) and a jail term of from one to five years.

“In Laos, the threat of long prison terms for those who criticize the authorities is very real,” Andrea Giorgetta from the Bangkok office of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) told RFA last week in an interview.

“So silence, prison, or exile are the only three options available for those who don’t like the government,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.
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