Laotian Blogger Gets Five Years for Questioning Flood Response
A 30-year-old Laotian blogger has been imprisoned for five years for questioning the adequacy of the government's response to deadly flooding in the country's south this fall.
In September, Tropical Storm Podul and Tropical Depression Kajiki dumped an estimated 40 centimeters of rain across Laos' six southern provinces, killing at least 19 people and displacing an estimated 100,000, according to the United Nations and ASEAN humanitarian and disaster relief agencies.
The Vientiane Times put the death toll at 28, and international media reported that flooding also damaged hospitals and schools, and destroyed hundreds of roads and nearly 100 bridges.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said video blogger Houayheuang Xayabouly, known online as Muay Littlepig, posted a video to Facebook on September 12 drawing attention to what she described as a negligent government response to the disaster in her native Champasak and neighboring Salavan provinces.
As of Thursday, the video had been viewed more than 172,000 times.
RSF learned Tuesday that Houayheuang had already been given the maximum sentence and incarcerated for "spreading propaganda against the Lao People's Democratic Republic," and "trying to overthrow the party, state and government."
"By disseminating anti-government messages, she violated Article 117 of Criminal Law. So, she could be imprisoned between one and five years, and be fined between 5 and 20 million Kip ($568 and $2,272)," Lieutenant Colonel Phaychit told VOA's Lao service shortly after the September 12 arrest.
Phaychit also said she "pleaded guilty as alleged and provided the important information of her association with the anti-government groups both inside the country and overseas."
"By acting as the voice of her fellow citizens with great courage, Muay Littlepig served the public interest in a country where the news media are completely ossified," said Daniel Bastard, RSF's Asia-Pacific chief, who is quoted in RSF's news alert.
"Her harsh sentence is a grim warning to the entire Laotian population," he said. "As the charges lacked any substance, we call for her immediate and unconditional release."
According to Bastard, Houayheuang had "previously posted videos about cases of corruption and the failure to adequately address the widespread damage in the southern province of Attapeu, resulting from the collapse of a dam in July 2018."
RSF describes Laos as "a news and information black hole in which the state apparatus has complete control over the media, and relatively few people have internet connections."
The international press freedom watchdog ranks Lao 171 out of 180 countries in its 2019 World Press Freedom Index.
Phaysarn Vorachak of VOA's Lao service contributed to this report.
by via Voice of America - English