Lao state media reported Tuesday that a woman who was arrested in Laos last week for criticizing the government on Facebook has confessed to her crime.
In a Facebook Live video last week, Houayheuang Xayabouly, known by her nickname Mouay, had slammed the Lao government’s slow response to severe floods in Laos’ southern provinces.
She was arrested Thursday on charges of defaming the country according to Article 117 of Laos’ Criminal Code, and is being held in the Champassak provincial jail.
The state-run Vientiane Times on Tuesday published an article with the headline “Mouay Confesses to Campaign Against Lao P.D.R.”
In that article, Lt. Col. Phaijit Xayadeth, the deputy commander of the Champassak Police Department said that Mouay’s confession followed an investigation and interrogation.
“Houayheuang Xayabouly, who has been detained since September 12, 2019, has confessed to illegal activity and having connections with ‘bad elements’ both in the country and abroad,” he said.
The officer described the law Mouay broke and potential consequences, saying, “According to Article 117, anyone who defames the Lao PDR by twisting policy of the Party and Government, publishing bad news, or creating disorder by speaking, writing, publishing pictures or documents, creating film or video, or using electronic media will be fined between five million and 20 million kip [$567-$2270] and jailed for one to five years.”
Mouay’s family applied to have her released on bail at their local police station Monday. Officers there sent the application to the provincial police station to make a final determination on bail, which is rarely granted to prisoners in Laos.
A police officer at the Champassak police station told RFA Tuesday that Mouay’s application might have a chance, however.
“The department may grant her bail because the application has been signed and the bail amount has been set,” the officer said, elaborating that the bail amount would be 100 million kip, or about $11,000, more than four times the country’s 2018 GDP per capita of $2,720.
Andrea Giorgetta from the Bangkok office of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) told RFA’s Lao Service that the threat of a lengthy prison sentence was not surprising.
“In Laos, the threat of long prison terms for those who criticize the authorities is very real, so silence, prison, or exile are the only three options available for those who don’t like the government,” he said.
Giorgetta also expressed dismay that Mouay’s confession came without the presence of a lawyer, but said this too was typical of Laos’ justice system.
“I don’t think anybody has a reasonable expectation that defendants in criminal cases that involve criticism of the government have ever received legal assistance and were assisted by a lawyer. We know that in previous cases none of the defendants received legal assistance despite what the government claims,” he said.
The Alliance for Democracy in Laos released a statement demanding Mouay’s release. “We regard [her] criticism as legitimate, as it had shown itself to be constructive through its self-initiated aid to catastrophes and thus proved its honorable intentions for the country,” the statement said.
FIDH and the Lao Movement for Human rights also published a joint press release stating, “The Lao government must stop persecuting its citizens for peacefully exercising their fight for freedom of opinion and expression.”
Reported and translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.