IFJ Condemns “Draconian and Unjust” 15-Year Jail Term For Journalists in Laos

The International Federation of Journalists today condemned the authorities in Laos over what it called “a draconian and unjust punishment” after two European journalists and their American guide were sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment by a court in Vientiane.

The trio were arrested three weeks ago while reporting on clashes between armed forces and rebels representing the country’s Hmong ethnic minority.

“The charges when first laid were difficult to believe,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “They had been detained for reporting on issues the authorities would rather are kept out of sight. Now the sentence is excessive and disproportionate and shows no respect for press freedom or journalists’ rights.”

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. Even more unacceptable, says the IFJ was the process of trial and punishment. “This was a trial held in excessive secrecy. We do not know what the charges in detail were against our colleagues. The entire process falls outside internationally-accepted standards of jurisprudence,” said White.

The IFJ notes reports that the three victims may be deported within the coming days. “However, this has been a show trial and our colleagues should be freed immediately and this punitive sentence overturned,” says the IFJ.

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