5 July 2006

NEW LEADER URGED TO EASE CENSORSHIP


Laos is known as one of the most isolated and information-starved countries in Southeast Asia. Ruled by the People's Revolutionary Party (PPRL) since 1975, its media is tightly controlled by authorities. All mass media outlets are state-owned, and Internet access is highly controlled and monitored. Visa regulations discourage foreign journalists from entering the country and those that do must be escorted by government agents.

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) says the local press has a constitutionally-defined "prime duty" to serve the PPRL's policies and direction. Censorship is imposed at all levels, from newspaper editors who are themselves party members, to the Ministry of Information and Culture, which regulates media content and issues publication licenses.

Last week, following the June 2006 appointment of Choummaly Sayasone as the country's new president, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontieres, RSF) wrote to Sayasone expressing its concerns over the lack of free expression in the country.

RSF called attention to laws under which journalists can be jailed for "spreading news which weakens the state" or importing a "publication contrary to national culture." It urged Sayasone to give foreign journalists greater access to the country and to allow broadcasters such as Radio France International and Radio Free Asia to air Lao-language programmes in the capital Vientiane and other cities.

RSF pointed out that foreign journalists have been prevented on several occasions from covering the plight of the Hmong, an ethnic minority group that has resisted the Communist regime since 1975. Two Laotian citizens - Thao Moua and Pa Phue Khang remain imprisoned in Vientiane for assisting a Belgian reporter and French cameraman who were investigating what they called a humanitarian tragedy confronting the Hmong. The detainees were sentenced to prison for 12 and 20 years, respectively, on 30 June 2003. RSF called for their immediate release.

RSF also urged Sayasone to pardon Thongpaseuth Keuakoun, a writer and pro-democracy activist who was sentenced to jail for 20 years in 2002 for "anti-government activity."

Visit these links:

- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=18109- SEAPA: http://www.seapabkk.org/newdesign/commentarydetail.php?No=284&keyword=laos- Amnesty International: http://web.amnesty.org/report2006/lao-summary-eng- BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/country_profiles/1154621.stm

Laos
 
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