New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on May 4 that reports of Lao political activist Anousa “Jack” Luangsuphom having died from gunshot wounds while being transported to hospital had proved false and that he is currently recovering from his wounds.
Anousa, 25, was shot point blank in the face and chest at 10:39 pm on April 29 by a gunman dressed in a brown long-sleeved shirt and black cap at a cafe in Chanthabouly district of the capital Vientiane. He fired twice at Anousa, who was seated on the floor, and then fled.
On May 3, HRW said he died while en-route to a hospital, quoting the Laos media.
“On the evening of May 3, Anousa’s family and other sources provided HRW [with] verbal confirmation and photographic evidence that Anousa survived the shooting and is now receiving medical treatment in a hospital in Vientiane,” HRW said in a statement.
Anousa is popular among the youth in the Southeast Asian nation through his work as a Facebook administrator of the "Kub Luem Duay Keyboard" – or Driven by Keyboard – with more than 41,000 followers and "Sor Tor Lor" – or The Republic – with more than 6,800 followers.
Both social media pages provide a platform for issues, including corruption, repression of fundamental freedoms and human rights violations against school children and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI).
"Anousa's shooting had sent a spine-chilling message"
“Human Rights Watch emphasizes the responsibility of the Laos government to ensure protection for Anousa while he recovers,” HRW spokesman Phil Robertson said. He urged the government to undertake a thorough and impartial investigation into the shooting.
Elaine Pearson, Asia director at HRW, said Anousa's shooting had sent a spine-chilling message that no one in Laos who criticizes the government is safe and was a demonstration of “the country’s further slide into lawlessness."
The shooting outraged civil society groups, more so given the number of Laos political activists who have gone missing and are feared dead, including Sombath Somphone — winner the Magsaysay award in 2005 for his dedication to community service.
He disappeared after being snatched off the streets of Vientiane by police in December 2012.
“The international community and UN agencies must demand that Lao authorities ensure the full protection of human rights defenders,” said Joe Freeman, Amnesty International’s interim deputy regional director for communications.
He said Amnesty had also documented the arrest of three Lao human rights activists — Soukan Chaithad, Lodkham Thammavong and Somphone Phimmasone — in 2016 after they participated in a peaceful demonstration outside the Laos embassy in Bangkok.
They had also posted messages on Facebook criticizing the Laos government over its record on corruption, deforestation and human rights violations and were sentenced to between 12 and 20 years in prison after a secret trial in April 2017.
Lao president Thongloun Sisoulith, who is currently in Cambodia for the opening ceremony of the South East Asian Games on May 5, has not commented on the shooting of Anousa.