Laos: Activists and rights groups demand release of Mouay

Lao blogger Houayheuang Xayabouly, known by her nickname Mouay, was detained in 2019 for criticising the region’s government for the mishandling of flooding in Laos’ southern Champassak and Salavan provinces. After having served one year of her five year sentence, this week activists and rights groups have once again called for her release. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns Mouay’s prolonged detention and echoes the calls to have her freed.

Lao blogger Houayheuang Xayabouly. Credit: RFA

In a Facebook Live video on September 14, 2019, Mouay called out the Laos government for responding to the floods too slowly, leaving villagers stranded and cut off from help. This criticism resulted in Muay’s arrest for “breaking the law on promoting anti-Lao PDR propaganda”.

Deputy director of the Asia-Pacific region for Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, said on September 14: “She did nothing to deserve her punishment. She only expressed her opinion, and the Lao government should have listened and responded to this, and not jailed her.”

Human rights advocates including Bounthone Chanthavong-Wiese from the Germany-based Alliance for Democracy in Laos and former Thai Human Rights Commission member Angkana Nilapaijit have also demanded Mouay’s release on the grounds that she did nothing that would have harmed the country and was only exercising her rights as a human being.

Mouay was arrested under Article 117 of Laos’ Criminal Code, which permits jail time between one and five years and fines between five to 20 million Kip (USD 570 to 2,280) for anyone found guilty of “propaganda activities against and slandering the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, […] or circulating false rumors causing disorder by words, in writing, through print, newspapers, motion pictures, videos, photographs, documents or other media which are detrimental to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic or are for the purpose of undermining or weakening State authority.”

Mouay is not the only person to have been jailed for criticising the Lao Government for social media posts. Three young Lao workers, who criticised the government in Facebook posts while living in Thailand, disappeared in March 2016 after returning to Laos to renew their passports. On August 26, Sangkhane Pachanvanthong was arrested at his home in southern Laos. He is still in jail after being questioned by authorities about alleged links to “anti-government groups” overseas.

The IFJ said: “Laos cannot label all criticisms of its governance as anti-government propaganda and use Article 117 of its Criminal Code to silence voices seeking to hold authorities to account. The IFJ demands Mouay’s freedom and urges the Lao government to allow its citizens to voice their opinions, without fear of arrest and detention.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

Twitter: @ifjasiapacific, on Facebook: IFJAsiaPacific and Instagram