Prisoners of conscience Thongpaseuth Keuakoun and Seng-aloun Phengphanh remained in detention in Samkhe prison. They were among five members of the Lao Students’ Movement for Democracy arrested in October 1999 for attempting to hold a peaceful demonstration in Vientiane and were reportedly sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. The identity of two other members of the group, Keochay and Bouavanh Chanhmanivong, continued to be disputed by the authorities; they were reportedly sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and due for release in October 2004. However, there was no confirmation of their release. The fifth group member died in detention in 2001 following torture by prison guards.
Pangtong Chokbengboun, who was seriously ill but denied appropriate medical treatment by the authorities, died in detention in March. His co-detainee Sing Chanthakoummane remained in detention in harsh conditions. Both men were arrested in 1975 and detained without charge or trial for 17 years for “re-education” before being sentenced to life imprisonment after an unfair trial in 1992.
Freedom of religious practice
Despite the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, several denominations faced varying degrees of harassment and persecution, particularly evangelical Christian groups. There were reports of Christians being subjected to harsh treatment and forced to renounce their faith.
- Eleven men from the ethnic Bru minority were arrested in Houeihoy Neua village, Muong Phine district of Savannakhet Province, while taking part in Easter celebrations in March. Nine were released after signing renunciations of their faith. They had reportedly spent 48 hours in a rice plantation with their hands tied and without food or water. Two others – Khamchanh, a former village chief and local Communist Party member, and Vanthong – were subsequently sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on charges of possessing illegal weapons. The real reason for their imprisonment appeared to be their refusal to renounce their faith.
Laos retained the death penalty for a wide range of offences and an increasing number of death sentences were imposed. Twenty-six people, including one woman, were sentenced to death for drug trafficking offences, bringing the number of people on death row to at least 60.
No executions were known to have taken place.