Lao Rights Activist Held in Thailand for Deportation Released on Bail

Special to BenarNews
Lao Rights Activist Held in Thailand for Deportation Released on Bail Lao activist Khoukham Keomanivong is seen in this undated photo.
Courtesy Khoukham Keomanivong

A Lao human rights activist living in Thailand and detained since Saturday under threat of deportation to his communist homeland was released on bail on Tuesday under strict travel restrictions, he told Radio Free Asia.

Khoukham Keomanivong, a U.N.-recognized refugee, was convicted Monday in a closed-door Thai trial of overstaying his visa and was being held pending deportation to Laos, where he faces arrest for his advocacy work he says he has refrained from for more than two years.

Khoukham declined to provide details about the conditions of his release, citing restrictions imposed by Thai authorities.

“What I can say right now is that I’ve been bailed out with the help of a human rights lawyer and the U.N. I can only sleep and stay in and travel to certain restricted areas, and I can’t travel to the provinces,” Khoukham said. “The U.N. has been coordinating with me and the authorities ever since I was held in the immigration detention center.”

A founding member of the rights group Free Laos, set up by Lao workers and residents in Thailand to promote human rights and democracy in their home country, Khoukham said he had ended his political activities long before his arrest.

“I stopped my political activities more than two years ago after getting my UNHCR card,” Khoukham said, referring to the U.N. document recognizing his status as a refugee in Thailand.

“One of the conditions of my obtaining that card was that I end my involvement in politics. The problem of my arrest arose because some individuals saw some old stories online and reported them,” he said.

“If I now have to go to a third country, I’ll go. But if I’m given a choice, and if there’s more security for me here in Thailand, I’d prefer to stay here,” he said.

Tough on critics

Laos deals severely with dissidents who call for democracy and respect for human rights in the one-party communist state, and Lao dissidents living abroad have been harshly punished after returning or being forced back to Laos.

Three Lao workers who criticized their government on Facebook while working in Thailand disappeared in March 2016 after returning to Laos to renew their passports.

Somphone Phimmasone, his girlfriend Lod Thammavong, and Soukane Chaithad were later shown on television making what appeared to be forced confessions and were charged with criticizing the Lao government online while working abroad and for taking part in a protest outside the Lao Embassy in Thailand.

Somphone was sentenced to a 20-year term, while Soukane was sentenced to 16 years and Lod was handed a 12-year sentence.

In August 2019, Lao democracy activist Od Sayavong, a friend of Khoukham, vanished under mysterious circumstances in Thailand after posting a video clip online criticizing the government. Listed as a “person of concern” by the UNHCR because of his advocacy for democracy and human rights, his whereabouts remain unknown. He was 34 at the time he went missing.

Thailand has hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war, natural disasters and human rights violations in neighboring countries.

Human rights groups, however, criticize Thailand’s authoritarian government for recent cases in which it returned refugees and asylum-seekers to China, where they face torture, persecution and other rights abuses.

In November 2021, Thai authorities arrested and deported to Cambodia two activists from the banned political opposition after Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the arrest of one of them over a poem criticizing the strongman ruler on Facebook.

In early 2019, Vietnamese blogger Truong Duy Nhat was arrested by Thai Royal Police and handed over to Vietnamese police, who took him across the border into Laos, and from there back to Vietnam.

Nhat, who had been a weekly contributor to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, was sentenced in 2020 to 10 years in jail for “abusing his position and authority” in a decade-old land fraud case.

Nontarat Phaicharoen in Bangkok contributed to this report.


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