GENEVA (12 April 2021) – A UN expert called on the Government of Lao PDR to immediately release three human rights
defenders who have been detained for more than five years, saying their continued imprisonment was an impediment to the
advancement of human rights in the South-East Asian nation.
A court in the capital, Vientiane, sentenced Ms. Lodkham Thammavong, Mr. Soukane Chaithad and Mr. Somphone Phimmasone to
prison terms of up to 30 years in 2017 after they took part in a demonstration outside the Lao Embassy in Thailand to
express concerns over the government’s human rights record. The three, who were arrested in March 2016, had also posted
messages on social media criticizing the Government.
Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said the activists had not only been
deprived of their liberty, but also their right to a fair and free trial. “To date, none of the above human rights
defenders have had access to their lawyers,” she said.
“I am deeply concerned that these three human rights defenders have been criminalised and sentenced respectively to 12,
16 and 30 years imprisonment in retaliation for their legitimate human rights work and criticism of the Government’s
alleged human rights violations, corruption and deforestation.”
“The misuse of national security laws to convict human rights defenders who are critical of the Government generates
fear amongst all human rights defenders in the country and has had an adverse effect on their ability to carry out their
legitimate human rights work,” Lawlor said. “The Government must guarantee a safe, secure and enabling environment for
all human rights defenders.
“The Government must provide the legal and factual basis behind the arbitrary arrest
and incommunicado pre-trial detention of Ms. Lodkham Thammavong, Mr. Soukane Chaithad and Mr. Somphone Phimmasone,”
Lawlor said. “The Government should also explain the the harsh prison sentences handed down to these human rights
defenders, and how these are compatible with international human rights norms and standards.”
The expert’s call has been endorsed by: Ms Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Miriam Estrada-Castillo, Mumba Malila, Mr
Seong-Phil Hong, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
; and Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association