All Efforts Should be Made to Locate Missing Laotian Activist
Freedom House expresses deep concern about the disappearance of Laotian anti-poverty activist and former director of the Participatory Development Training Centre, Sombath Somphone, who has been missing since he was reportedly detained by authorities on Saturday, December 15. Security footage made available to his wife shows Somphone being driven away from the Vientiane police station by two plainclothes officers on Saturday evening. Somphone’s disappearance falls on the heels of the expulsion of the Swiss development organization Helvetas’s country director, Anne-Sophie Gindroz. Authorities told Gindroz to leave Laos after she sent a letter to her organization’s donors criticizing the government’s for its repression of civil society and for creating a difficult operating environment for Helvetas and other development NGOs.
Freedom House calls for the immediate release of Somphone, and urges the US government to press for the same with its Laotian counterparts.
Somphone’s work on poverty reduction and economic development has garnered international praise, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership award in 2005. While his work highlights the need for economic and political reform, it is not overtly critical of the government and questions remain about the government’s motive for his detention.
Freedom House consistently places Laos - a one-party communist state - among the world’s most repressive societies, as the government stifles political dissent and the civil sphere is closely monitored.
Freedom in the World 2012: Laos
Freedom of the Press 2012: Laos