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UN Special Rapporteur – Radio Free Asia

Three Lao workers serving long prison sentences for criticizing their government on Facebook while working in Thailand were never allowed to contact a lawyer and must be released immediately, a human rights expert of the United Nations said.

Somphone Phimmasone, his girlfriends Lod Thammavong and Soukane Chaithad disappeared in March 2016 after returning to Laos to renew their passports and were later shown on television, making people seem forced to confess because of which they call a “mistake” in opposing the country’s policy.

Charged with online criticism of the Lao government while working abroad and participating in a rally outside the Lao embassy in Thailand, the three have been sentenced to prison sentences described by human rights groups as harsh at a secret trial in April 2017.

Somphone was sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined 210 million kip ($ 26,000), while Soukane was sentenced to 16 years and fined 106 million kip ($ 13,000), the source said.

Lod was sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined 110 million kip ($ 14,000).

Somphone, Lod and Soukane were involved in “legal human rights work” at the time they were arrested five years ago, Mary Lawlor – UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders – for know in an April 12 statement, calling for their immediate release.

Lawlor said: “The abuse of national security laws to accuse human rights defenders of criticizing the government frightens all human rights defenders in the country and has a negative impact on their ability to do their jobs. their legal human rights.

Mary Lawlor writes, at no time, during pre-trial detention or during their trial or since then, the three protesters are allowed to be represented before the law. “The government must ensure a safe and secure environment and enable all human rights defenders”.

‘Specific protection’

In response to a question from the RFA via email, Orsolya Toth – a human rights officer in the Special Procedures Branch of the Geneva-based Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – said the activities that the three defenders Human rights have been imprisoned “not only not prohibited under international human rights law, but also concretely protected”.

“These reasons alone are enough to call for their release, but their right to a free and fair trial has also been violated,” Toth wrote, adding that it is not too late for now. allow them to contact an attorney.

“In ideal cases, quick and unobstructed access to the independent attorney of their choice will help detainees on their way to understand their rights and challenge aspects of their conditions and treatment in prison.

“In the cases mentioned, access to a lawyer may also provide an opportunity to appeal sentences,” Toth said.

Phil Robertson, Asia Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch, added in an April 14 statement calling for the immediate and unconditional release of three peaceful dissidents. this.

“Once again, Vientiane is proving to be a dictatorial government, with the insurmountable leadership of Laotian human rights atrocities, both at home and abroad,” Robertson said. , ”Said Robertson. “An indictment of the lack of basic fair trial protections in the Lao legal system.”

The US State Department said in an annual human rights report published this year, there were no government statistics or reliable estimates of the number of political prisoners detained by Laos in the the prison of this country.

In June 2019, nine residents of Sekong province received prison sentences of two to six years for their protest two years prior to the government’s decision to assign villagers’ farmland to a Vietnamese company to used as rubber plantations.

And in August 2019, Od Sayavong, a Lao democracy activist living in Thailand, disappeared after criticizing the Lao government and applying for asylum in a third country, with the Lien Special Rapporteur. United Nations human rights defenders say the activist is likely “gone”.

Report of RFA’s Lao Service. Translation of Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.



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