THREE Laos nationals, the latest victims of forced disappearances in the Southeast Asian nation, were recently seen for the first time since March, apologizing on state TV for apparently tarnishing the government’s reputation on social media.
Somophone Phimmasone, 29, Lodkham Thammavong, 30, and Soukan Chaithad, 32, were paraded on Laos National TV in late May and publicly apologized for making the anti-government Facebook posts.
All three wore prisoner uniforms and were surrounded by police officers beneath a banner that proclaimed “peace, independence, unity, prosperity,” according to Al Jazeera.
Phimmasone said: “We have been deceived by ill-faith people based overseas, who pushed us to commit wrongdoings.” He also promised to change his attitude and to stop “all activities that betray the nation”.
Chaithad reportedly stressed that they were not forced to apologize on state TV for their “crimes”, which threatened national security, according to a narrator.
The three prisoners apparently did so by protesting against the Laotian government on Facebook while working abroad in Thailand. They were arrested after returning to Laos in February.
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Their appearances were the latest in a trend of parading offenders on state television in Asia as a warning to the public, a method particularly favored by China, who televised apologies by three Hong Kong booksellers for selling banned political books earlier this year.
According to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), which said the crimes were arbitrary, the criticism of the government related to alleged corruption, deforestation, and human rights violations.
FIDH President Karim Lahidiji said in a statement: “The government’s systematic repression of all forms of peaceful dissent underscores the immense gap between Vientiane’s promises to the international community and its abusive behavior at home.”
— AG (@ag_fidh) June 6, 2016
Lahidiji called for foreign governments and donors to put pressure on Laos regarding “human rights violations”.
Vanida Thephsouvanh, president of the Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) in France, said: “It is extremely troubling that Lodkham, Somphone, and Soukan are likely to face years of imprisonment in Laos’ terrifying jails because they told the truth about the appalling human rights situation and the lack of good governance in the country.
“Authorities must disclose their fate or whereabouts and immediately and unconditionally release them.”
The most high-profile case of forced disappearance in Laos is that of activist and prominent civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who was abducted in Vientiane in December 2012.
Rights groups have repeatedly demanded information from the Lao government on Somphone’s whereabouts, but the government has always denied any involvement in his disappearance. Somphone has never been seen or heard from since.
Freedom of expression in Laos is tightly controlled by the ruling Laos People’s Revolutionary Party. Laos remained at the bottom of the latest Reporters Without Borders rankings on global journalistic freedom, along with other socialist states such as China, North Korea, and Vietnam.