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Laos releases pro-democracy rights activist

Savang Phaleuth is the latest victim of a crackdown on dissidents in the communist-ruled country
Savang Phaleuth, a human rights activist and member of the Free Laos group, is seen in this June 2022 photo

Savang Phaleuth, a human rights activist and member of the Free Laos group, is seen in this June 2022 photo. (Citizen journalist via RFA)

Published: July 27, 2023 11:51 AM GMT
Updated: July 27, 2023 12:28 PM GMT

The government in communist-ruled Laos has released a Thailand-based rights activist and democracy advocate who was arrested for allegedly carrying pro-democracy political activism in the country, says a report.

Savang Phaleuth, a member of the Thailand-based “Free Laos” group was arrested while visiting his family members residing in his hometown Savannakhet in Laos, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on July 26.

Free Laos was established by Lao workers and residents in Thailand to promote human rights and democracy in their home country.

According to an unnamed source, Phaleuth was released in June 2023 but it was only known recently.

“At the present time, Mr. Savang has been released. He [has] returned to live with his family in Thailand,” the unnamed source said.

An unnamed Lao official stated that Phaleuth was arrested because of his dual citizenship, carrying two passports, and his membership in the political group that is deemed as an anti-Lao government organization operating from Thailand.

However, members of the Free Laos group pointed out that the arguments of the Laos officials were baseless, and Phaleuth’s arrest and detention were purely on political grounds.

“It is more likely that there were political charges,” RFA reported citing unnamed members of the group.

Phaleuth was not the first Thailand-based activist arrested in Laos.

In 2017, activists Somphone Pimmasone, Lodkham Thammavong, and Soukane Chaithad, were arrested when they entered Laos.

They were charged for criticizing the Lao government online while working abroad and for taking part in a protest outside the Lao embassy in Thailand.

The trio were handed down prison terms after a secret trial at a Lao court in April 2017.

In 2019, Od Sayavong, a pro-democracy activist, disappeared under mysterious circumstances in Bangkok after posting a video clip online criticizing the government.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has listed Od as a “person of concern” because of his advocacy for democracy and human rights

Od’s whereabouts remain unknown to date.

In May 2023, Khoukham Keomanivong, co-founder of the Free Laos group decried the arrests of dissidents and urged the government to not treat them as traitors.

“We don’t like that the government treats people with different opinions as enemies,” Keomanivong said.

“It’s a severe abuse of human rights when people who express opinions different from the government are arrested and then disappear,” he further added.

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