The Lao people said they were confused after the newly-elected Lao President Thongloun Sisoulith gave a speech in which he appeared to contradict himself, urging the public to condemn police abuse, at the same time demanding that the government suppress the use of social media that is considered to be destructive to society. order.
In a speech on April 5 on the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the police force in Vientiane, Thongloun urged security personnel to “be role models, build trust, [and] is a force people can rely on. “
“The police must protect the people and be fair to the people. The police should allow people to participate and cooperate in maintaining safety and security, ”said Thongloun, who on March 22 became the first president of the country without a military background after was appointed general secretary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party in January, said.
“People should be encouraged to report misconduct by the police and other authorities, especially misconduct that will endanger their communities and the public. The police shouldn’t do anything that scares people or stops them from reporting, ”he said.
However, in a similar speech, Thongloun warned the bad forces seeking to overthrow the country’s one-party government with a speech critical of their leadership on Facebook and social media platforms. others, at the same time calling on the authorities to use whatever means are necessary to circumvent those efforts.
“In the age of advanced technology and modern social media, police must fight resolutely and immediately against those who take advantage of social media to commit crimes, destroy our country and cause trouble. undermining our solidarity, creating misunderstandings and creating any resistance. in the country, ”he said.
At the end of his speech, Thongloun reiterated that all security forces must immediately and effectively stand up against all hostile elements in order to undermine the revolution.
Members of the public told RFA’s Labor Agency that they were confused by the president’s statements, which they deemed contradictory.
A truck driver, who frequently travels between Khammouane and Vientiane provinces, said he did not understand what Thongloun was trying to convey to people during his speech.
“On the one hand, the president urged us to report the wrongdoings of the authorities to the public and the government; But on the other hand, he instructed the police to persecute on social media, ”he said, anonymously for fear of retaliation.
“I was stopped by a traffic police for speeding and he asked to snatch me back then let me go. I filmed a short video of the officer and posted it on my Facebook page, and then I was summoned to the local police station, ordered to take it down, renovated and charged with trying to defame the government. “.
Fear of the police
A motorcyclist in Borikhamxay province, who also remains anonymous, told RFA that “many people are afraid of the police” in Laos based on previous experience.
“Even if they get stopped by a traffic police and get kicked back, most of them won’t report corruption to the authorities or the public,” he said. “If they report, they’ll be in trouble.”
Other drivers said that while they could take photos or videos of the police committing an illegal act, they would never say anything bad about the police on social media, because for doing so could put them in jail or “be forced to disappear.”
“We can’t say much,” said one Champassak province resident. “If you say something bad, you’ll be charged with trying to sabotage the Party and the government. We cannot re-speak or make any arguments against the authorities ”.
Bounthone Chanthalavong-Weise, president of the Coalition for Democracy in Laos, a human rights organization based in Germany, said that Thongloun was “wrong”.
“What he said was inaccurate because social networks exist to allow the public to report, publish and exchange information are often blocked by the government,” she said.
When contacted by RFA to clarify Thongloun’s statement, an official at the Prime Minister’s Office said that although netizens can “say whatever you want” on social media, “what you say” must be supported by evidence and facts. “
“It’s the law,” he said, without providing any further details.
Aim to speak out
Last year, RFA recorded several cases of Lao people being targeted after reporting police misconduct.
In March 2020, a young man and woman named Boey and Keo were arrested in their hometown of Xiengda on the outskirts of Vientiane and held in custody for a week after posting a video they captured during the incident. hot discussion with police about whether they have state-owned land. One of Keo’s family members said at the time that the two were “renovated” for posting videos before they were released.
Sangkhan Chanthavong, who is known as Thisi, was arrested on August 26 last year in Champasak and detained for a month and three days after posting a video clip accusing the Lao government of celibacy. because senior officials regularly check their bodies with family members. In another video, he criticized the judiciary, which included the police, prosecutors and judges.
On the evening of October 27, 2020, police intercepted a 17-year-old boy who was taken by his mother to buy spices for their small restaurant in Vientiane and asked for 200,000 kip ($ 21.24) to launch a motorbike. his. The mother posted a video clip on Facebook cursing the exploitation officers and was summoned three days later to the police station and forced to apologize.
Thongloun is not the first Lao president to issue a seemingly contradictory statement that confuses public opinion.
Three years ago, in a speech to the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, former president Bounnhang Vorachith lamented what he called “dull and unpopular” broadcasts of the media. Laos, calling for more programs with more “creativity” to “more reflect the needs of the public.”
Later, in that same speech, Bounnhang called television, radio and newspapers the “tools” of the state, adding that “all media must serve the Party and the government. , ”And adhere to their own undertakings and policies.
Report of the Lao Language Service of RFA. Translation of Max Avary. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.