9 July 2003


Following an international outcry led by IFEX members and other press-freedom groups, the government of Laos has indicated that it will release two foreign journalists and an interpreter from prison on 14 July, says Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF).

Belgian journalist Thierry Falise, French camera operator Vincent Reynaud and interpreter Naw Karl Mua, an American of ethnic Hmong origin, have been detained in Laos since 4 June after being arrested in the remote northeastern province of Xieng Khuang, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports.

The journalists were reporting on clashes between a group of ethnic minority Hmong and government forces. They were convicted on 30 June and each sentenced to 15 years in prison, the International Federation of Journalists says.

Following meetings with US, French and Belgian diplomats, the Laotian government has agreed to release the journalists on the condition that they admit "obstructing authority" in the murder of a militiaman killed in a 4 June shooting, that they not appeal their 15-year jail sentence and that they pay compensation to the dead man's family, RSF notes.

Press freedom in Laos is tightly restricted. All media are owned and controlled by the ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party, RSF says. Foreign journalists, who must obtain special visas to visit the country, are also required to pay for the services of an official "escort" during their stays. Most government information is secret, and Laotian officials seldom grant interviews, adds CPJ.

Visit these links for the latest updates:

- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=7430
- CPJ: http://www.cpj.org/attacks02/asia02/laos.html
- Free Falise and Reynaud Campaign: http://www.free-falise-and-reynaud.com/

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