Religious persecution increased in rural areas, where evangelical Christians came under attack. Pressures on land and natural resources continued to increase, with a rise in land and property disputes. Over 1,700 Hmong people were returned to Laos from Thailand; some were forcibly returned. No independent monitoring was allowed to assess their well-being.
Thousands of people, in particular ethnic minorities, faced displacement, including forced evictions, as a result of seven new large dams and other development projects. Some affected communities experienced food insecurity and child malnutrition as a result of resettlement. A further dozen dams were being designed, and discussions were ongoing about 65 hydropower projects. A new media law passed by the National Assembly in July failed to alleviate harsh restrictions on freedom of expression.
"At least two people were sentenced to death for offences related to drug trafficking."
Freedom of religion
Christians, from mainly evangelical congregations, faced increased persecution. Between July and September at least 90 Christians, including pastors, were arrested and detained without charge or trial. Some were held for several weeks. At least two people were released after being forced to renounce their faith.
- On 8 September, police and district authorities arrested a teacher in Phonthong District, Champassak Province, for converting to Christianity. He was detained in a “re-education centre” in deplorable conditions and told he would only be released if he recanted his faith. He was released about a week later following intervention by provincial authorities. Although he was able to return to teaching, he was threatened with re-arrest if he continued to practise his religion.
At least two people were sentenced to death during the year for offences related to drug trafficking. The government publicly defended its use of the death penalty, claiming it was needed to deter drug trafficking within the country and across its borders. No executions were believed to have taken place. However, information about the application of the death penalty, including conditions in prison, was not made public despite repeated calls by the UN.
Discrimination – Hmong
At least 1,700 Hmong people were returned from Thailand, among them were an unknown number who had been seeking asylum. Many returnees went through a transit centre in the town of Paksan, Borikhamsay Province. According to state-controlled media, authorities “educated” the returning Hmong in the ideology of the Communist Party. Many were resettled in the newly constructed Phalak village, Kasi District in Vientiane Province. Others were sent back to their home provinces. It was unclear whether the choice of resettlement site was voluntary. No independent monitoring was allowed.
At least four returnees were arbitrarily detained upon return to Laos and were reportedly held without charge in a prison in Attapeu Province. The true number of detained returnees was believed to be higher. Authorities failed to account for six individuals from a group of 27 ethnic Hmong Protestants who were forcibly returned to Laos from Thailand in December 2005.
Amnesty International visitsAn Amnesty International delegation visited Thailand in October to gather information about Laos.
Amnesty International reportsLaos: Official moratorium on the death penalty – an opportunity for Laos (16 July 2008)
Thailand/Laos: Forcible return/fear for safety (25 June 2008)