On 13 July 2020, along with the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of opinion and expression, extreme poverty and human rights and violence against women, as well as three UN Working Groups, I sent an allegation letter to the Government of Lao PDR concerning the five year prison sentence handed down to women human rights defender Ms Houayheuang Xayabouly. This communication can now be made public.
Ms Xayabouly is a women human rights defender who has campaigned against government corruption, raising awareness about its impact upon the economically and socially most vulnerable in the country.
According to the information received:
Ms Xayabouly was arrested without a warrant on 12 September 2019 at a restaurant near her home.
She was subsequently held in pre-trial detention until her hearing over a month later. Her requests for family and lawyer visits were denied, as was a request for bail.
While detained, Ms Xayabouly was subjected to repeated, lengthy interrogations, reportedly in the absence of a lawyer. On 17 September 2019, she was reportedly coerced into confessing to spreading progaganda against the State.
On 29 November 2019, Ms Xayabouly was sentenced to five years in prison under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. She is being held at Champassak provincial jail.
Prior to these events, Ms Xayabouly had been an outspoken critic on a number issues, speaking out online about corruption in the awarding of jobs within the public sector, inequalities in access to education, corruption within the tourism sector in Lao, and the Government response to the collapse of the auxiliary dam 'Saddle D' of the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy Hydropower Dam. On several instances the woman human rights defender was warned by the authorities to stop her public criticism of the Government.
In the communication, we expressed our concerns to the Government that Ms Xayabouly had been sentenced for her legitimate exercise of her right to freedom of expression, and that the charge against her of “propaganda against Lao PDR” failed to meet the criteria for restricting freedom of expression as laid out in Article 19(3) of the ICCPR, namely, legality, necessity and proportionality.
The full communication can be accessed here: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25397