1 December 2004


With Laos hosting the 10th summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this week, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) are calling attention to press freedom conditions in one of the most restrictive countries in the region.

In a capsule report released by SEAPA, the IFEX member says the ruling Communist Party continues to maintain tight control over all information within Laos. All mass media, including print and broadcast, are state-owned, and the Internet is heavily monitored. There are no international media agencies in the country. Foreign journalists generally have to wait at least a month to obtain visas to the country and those who are successful must travel with government minders.

Meanwhile, censorship is imposed on the local press at all levels, from newspaper editors who are themselves party members, to the Ministry of Information and Culture (MIC), which officially regulates media content and issues publication licenses.

RSF says in the months leading up to the ASEAN summit, government agents have searched thousands of homes to confiscate short wave radios that allow Laotians to receive foreign news broadcasts. Officials have also ordered foreign journalists covering the summit not to photograph public facilities during their stay in Laos.

RSF notes that two Laotian guides arrested in 2003 for assisting French journalists Thierry Falise and Vincent Reynaud are still in prison. Thao Moua and Pa Phue Khang are serving jail terms of between 12 and 20 years for helping Falise and Reynaud report on the plight of the ethnic Hmong in Laos.

An Amnesty International report says many civilians, particularly children, have died from lack of food or from wounds suffered during an ongoing conflict between Hmong rebels and the Laotian government.

For more information on Laos, read:

- SEAPA's Capsule Report: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/62820/- RSF's Alerts and Reports: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=11959- Committee to Protect Journalists: http://www.cpj.org/attacks03/asia03/laos.html- Amnesty Report on Laos' Ethnic Hmong: http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGASA260042004?open&of=ENG-LAO- Burma's Junta Thumbs Nose at ASEAN: http://www.ipsnews.net/africa/interna.asp?idnews=26481

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