EU Lawmakers Criticize Laos on Missing Activist

By Justine Drennan 29 August 2013

BANGKOK — A team of European lawmakers on Wednesday criticized the Lao government’s failure to accept international help in solving the mysterious disappearance of a prominent social activist eight months ago.

Sombath Somphone was last seen in closed-circuit video footage when he was stopped at a police checkpoint in the Lao capital of Vientiane on Dec. 15. The government of the Southeast Asian country denies knowledge of his fate.

Speaking to reporters in Bangkok, the capital of neighboring Thailand, lawmaker Soren Bo Sondergaard of Denmark denounced Laos’ refusal of international assistance to interpret the footage.

He also accused government officials of telling “ridiculous lies” by suggesting that the person in the video might not be Sombath.

“We have to say, based on our experience in the last few days, that what the regime has done to investigate this is not sufficient,” Sondergaard said after the delegation’s three-day visit to Laos.

“Every day spent without giving any acceptable answers to this very serious and symbolic case … is very damaging to the international image of Laos,” the delegation said in a statement.

A spokesman for Laos’ Foreign Ministry did not respond to calls or emails seeking comment.

The case has put a rare spotlight on the authoritarian nation’s murky governance and human rights record. Laos remains one of the most politically repressive countries in Asia, even as it makes a transition from communism to a more open market economy.

Laos’ government is intolerant of dissent, but associates say Sombath’s work was neither directly political nor confrontational. Educated in the United States, he won one of Asia’s top civil awards in 2005 for his work reducing poverty and promoting education at a training center he founded.