Lao People's Democratic Republic
Head of state: Khamtay Siphandone
Head of government: Sisavat Keobounphanh
Population: 5.1 million
Official language: Lao
Death penalty: retentionist
Freedom of expression and association continued to be restricted, and more than 50 people were arrested after planning an anti-government protest in Vientiane in October. Ongoing restrictions on religious expression led to more than 30 people being detained for their beliefs. Three prisoners of conscience and two political prisoners continued to be held in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions.
Restrictions on access to Laos for independent human rights monitors, and the government's tight control over information within Laos, hampered the collection of independent and impartial information about human rights. Neither the international community nor local people were able to monitor the situation adequately, raising concerns that the population remained vulnerable to hidden human rights violations. The government failed to respond positively to international concerns about the human rights situation, and AI's attempts to open a dialogue met with no response.
Freedom of expression
More than 50 people were arrested in October in connection with planning an anti-government protest in Vientiane. They included Thongpaseuth Keuakoun, Kamphouvieng Sisaath, Seng-Aloun Phengphanh, Bouavanh Chanhmanivong and Keochay. Scores of others were reportedly questioned by the authorities and subsequently released. An open letter from the protest organizers, the "Lao Students Movement for Democracy of 26 October 1999", included calls for respect for human rights, the release of political prisoners, a multi-party political system and elections for a new National Assembly.
Persecution on religious grounds
Restrictions on freedom of religious expression continued; people belonging to small church groups outside state control faced imprisonment and forced relocation. More than 30 Christians were arrested between January and July in the provinces of Savannakhet, Attapeu, Champassak, Xieng Khouang and Luang Prabang. Most of the men were rice farmers and day labourers belonging to the Bru ethnic minority group, and several had been arrested previously because of their religious beliefs.
* Pa Tood, a rice farmer and local church leader, was among 15 evangelists arrested in March 1999 in Savannakhet province. He was detained in Savannakhet City Prison and accused of "creating social disorder and division", "receiving money from outsiders" and "support from foreigners". A court reportedly dismissed the charges against him on the grounds that there was no evidence to support them, but new charges were formulated by the police. His family was ordered to relocate from their village, despite having received official permission to settle there in 1994; they were reportedly ordered to move on again in July 1999. Pa Tood continued to be held in harsh conditions at the end of the year, despite concerns for his deteriorating health.
* Prisoner of conscience Khamtanh Phousy was convicted of "irresponsibility in his work" and corruption, and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment at Prison Camp 7 in Houa Phanh province. He had been arrested in March 1996 after officials became suspicious of his religious activities and his contact with foreigners. AI believed that the charges against him were politically motivated.
Ten prisoners of conscience held since January 1998 on account of their religious activities and their contacts with foreigners were pardoned and released in June.
Detainees faced ill-treatment and insanitary conditions; they were reportedly denied adequate food and medical care. Detainees at Prison Camp 7 in Houa Phanh province and in Savannakhet City Prison were reportedly held in stocks for prolonged periods.
* Prisoners of conscience Feng Sakchittaphong and Latsami Khamphoui continued to be held in harsh conditions at Prison Camp 7 in a remote area of Houa Phanh province. Both men were suffering from serious medical problems, but they were denied access to medical care and their families were prevented from visiting them on a regular basis. Feng Sakchittaphong and Latsami Khamphoui were serving 14-year prison sentences for state security offences, imposed in November 1992 after unfair trials. However, AI believed that they were detained for advocating peaceful political and economic change.