Rights group concerned over missing Lao activist in Thailand

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Bangkok (AP) — A Paris-based human rights group called Friday for Thai authorities to investigate the disappearance in Bangkok of a Laotian pro-democracy activist who was seeking political asylum.

The International Federation for Human Rights said Od Sayavong did not attend a meeting with friends on Aug. 26 and has not been heard from since.

It said Od, 34, has been a member of the Bangkok-based “Free Lao” group of Lao migrant workers and activists promoting human rights in their home country.

The group mostly organized human rights workshops and meetings, and staged occasional small peaceful protests outside the Lao Embassy and the United Nations regional headquarters in Bangkok, said the federation, generally known by its French initials, FIDH.

It said in a statement that the U.N. refugee agency in December 2017 registered Od as a person of concern seeking resettlement in a third country.

Laos is a single-party Communist state that cracks down strongly on dissenters.

According to the latest U.S. State Department annual report on human rights worldwide, issues of concern in Laos include “arbitrary detention; political prisoners; censorship; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; corruption; and trafficking in persons.”

Rights groups fear that Thailand and Laos have an informal agreement to secretly seize their own dissidents from each other’s country.

“Od may be the latest casualty of increased cooperation between the government of Thailand and its regional counterparts to crack down on their respective dissidents in exile,” the FIDH statement quoted Vanida Thephsouvanh, president of the Lao Movement for Human Rights, as saying. “The international community should strongly condemn this seemingly coordinated form of repression that leads to further shrinking space for civil society in the region.” Her group is a member of FIDH.

FIDH cited the case of Vietnamese blogger Truong Duy Nhat as another possible example of regional cooperation. He disappeared in Bangkok in January this year after fleeing to Thailand to seek refuge, but was revealed in March to be held in a jail in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, a suspected victim of a political abduction.

Suspicion that Thailand and Laos have cut a deal over their dissidents is high because Lao authorities seem to have turned a blind eye in the past few years to the disappearance of Thai political dissidents seeking shelter in Laos, several of whom turned up dead in the Mekong River, which marks part of the two countries’ border.

Thai authorities have denied any such deal.

Thai police spokesman Col. Krissana Patanacharoen said his agency was aware of Od’s case from media reports, but had not launched an investigation because no missing person complaint had been filed.