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Political activist shot in Laos is alive, Human Rights Watch calls for investigation into government responsibility

Twitter: @sahanasometimes

Vientiane: An administrator of a Facebook group critical of the one-party rule in Laos, Anousa “Jack” Luangsuphom, was shot on April 29, while in a coffee shop in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Initial reports suggested that the activist, aged 24, had died while being taken to the hospital, but it was later disclosed that he had survived the attack and is currently receiving medical treatment in a hospital in Vientiane.

An update on Anousa’s Facebook page reveals that he is recovering well and can communicate through writing, but his speech is still impaired because of nerve damage in his mouth caused by the gunshot. A bullet is still lodged in his lung and has not yet been removed.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for a credible and impartial investigation into the shooting, citing the Lao government’s long history of failing to prevent or respond adequately to attacks against government critics, human rights defenders, and political activists.

Anousa “Jack” Luangsuphom, who is an administrator of a Facebook group dedicated to uncovering and condemning human rights violations in Laos. He is known for his activism in advocating for the end of one-party rule in the country.  Picture credit: HRW

Anousa was the administrator of the Kub Kluen Duay Keyboard, or “Driven by Keyboard,” Facebook group, which called for the end of one-party rule in Laos and denounced human rights abuses. He was one of the few people in Laos who regularly expressed critical views of the government openly. Anousa’s activism may have led to the attempt on his life, but the identity of the gunman remains unknown, and no arrests have been made.

The security camera footage that was later posted on the Facebook group page showed an unidentified gunman wearing a cap and beige jacket. He came to the door and apparently asked a question. He then closed the door briefly and reopened it, stepped into the shop and fired what sounded like two shots at Anousa, who was seated on or near the floor, before fleeing.

Anousa’s case highlights the challenges faced by activists who seek to promote democratic values and human rights in countries like Laos, where the government is intolerant of dissent and critical voices are suppressed. According to the HRW, Laos has been cracking down on dissidents since the 2016 disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a prominent civil society leader.

Also Read: The Costly Bite – high inflation, food prices, and food insecurity among low-income earners in Laos

The HRW report emphasized the responsibility of the Lao government to ensure protection for Anousa while he recovers and to undertake a thorough investigation into the shooting. The Lao government has responded by saying that it is investigating the case and has set up a team to find the culprits.

Laos is ranked 170th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, and according to Amnesty International, the country has a long history of suppressing freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The government controls all media outlets, and independent journalists and activists face harassment, intimidation, and imprisonment. The government has also restricted access to the internet and social media platforms, making it difficult for people to share information and organize.

Patuxai monument in the heart of Vientiane, Laos, By night. Picture credit : Sahana David Menon

Anousa’s activism was focused on highlighting environmental issues and calling for accountability from the government. On his Facebook page, which has over 10,000 followers, Anousa recently posted comments saying that while the government has blamed thick haze on farmers burning forests and farmland, city dwellers have also burned lots of trash, and Chinese and Vietnamese companies have burned toxic waste that has polluted the air.

Last May, he published a post about how the Lao and Chinese governments helped each other get rich while Lao people have only grown poorer. His activism put him at risk, and his survival is a testament to his courage and resilience.

In conclusion, Anousa’s case sheds light on the challenges that activists, journalists and human rights defenders face in Laos. The Lao government must take responsibility for ensuring the safety of its citizens and respecting their right to free expression and peaceful assembly. The shooting of Anousa is a wake-up call for the international community to pay attention to the situation in Laos and to advocate for the protection of human rights defenders and political activists.

Sahana David Menon
Sahana David Menon
Foreign Correspondent (Sri Lanka) - Sahana David Menon is a multimedia Journalist | Researcher | Story Teller based in South Asia. Sahana is a Foreign Correspondent for TheNews21. She began reporting in 2014 from the post-Srilankan civil war-ethic conflicts and has since worked with Marginalized communities, conflicts and Environmental issues in India, Srilanka, the Bali islands, and the Middle east. Sahana has won the best multimedia report award in 2016 in the Global Press awards

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