IFJ Challenges Arrest of Journalists in Laos and Calls for Team to be Freed

The International Federation today challenged the authorities in Laos over the arrest of two European journalists and their American guide who were arrested last week while reporting on clashes between armed forces and rebels representing the country’s Hmong ethnic minority.

“Charges that these colleagues have taken part in an assassination are absurd,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “They have been detained for reporting on issues the authorities would rather are kept out of sight. They should be released immediately.”

Thierry Falise, a Belgian freelance photographer and reporter, Vincent Reynaud, a French free-lance photographer and cameraman, and Naw Karl Mua, an American of ethnic Hmong origin who was their guide and translator were arrested on June 4. The Lao News Agency says they were arrested in northeastern Xieng Khuang province on charges of "cooperating with bandits to kill a village security man of Khai village, Phoukot district."

The team had been reporting on the increasingly desperate situation facing the Hmong community and on frequent clashes between Hmong rebels and the armed forces.

More significantly, says the IFJ, Ly Southavilay, director-general of the foreign ministry's press department claims the journalists "came into Laos on a tourist visa, but they were carrying out reporting activities, which is not allowed."

It is unacceptable, says the IFJ, that the journalists are being punished for reporting on the Hmong rebel movement. The Laotian government has long denied the persistence of the anti-communist rebel movement and has suppressed information about the military's efforts to crush the insurgency.

The IFJ says that there are growing fears for the journalists’ safety. “The authorities should immediately give full details of their whereabouts,” said Aidan White. “This incident demonstrates how the authorities will go to extreme lengths to stop media coverage. They would do better to release our colleagues and come clean about what is happening in the region.”

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The IFJ represents more than 500, 000 journalists in more than 100 countries