Khoukham Keomanivong, a UN-recognised Lao political refugee living in Thailand who was arrested last Saturday (29 January), was released on bail but restricted from traveling, Benarnews reported on 2 February.
Khoukham was reportedly arrested because of his past political advocacy work and was tried in a closed-door chamber for overstaying his visa. With the help of a human rights lawyer and United Nations (UN) intervention, he was released on bail with the condition that he refrain from traveling to other provinces and areas designated by the Court.
Khoukham is a founding member of the Free Laos, a group comprised of Laos workers and residents in Thailand who support human rights and democracy in Laos PDR. In order to secure refugee standing from the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), Khoukham has had to leave off political activities for the past 2 years.
Lao political activists living in Thailand have reportedly received heavy punishments in Laos PDR upon their return. According to Benarnews, in March 2016, three Lao workers who criticised the Lao government on Facebook disappeared after returning home to renew their passports.
Two months later, the three - Somphone Phimmasone, his girlfriend Lod Thammavong, and Soukane Chaithad - appeared on Lao television, confessing to their crimes: criticising the government online and taking part in a protest outside the Lao Embassy in Thailand. Somphone was sentenced to a 20-year prison term. Soukane received 16 years. Lod was given a 12-year sentence.
In August 2019, Od Sayavong, a 34-year-old activist from Savannaket Province, Laos, disappeared from Bangkok’s Bueng Kum District. He was last seen leaving his home to join two co-workers for dinner at a restaurant where he worked as a cook.
At 6:34pm of the same day, a Facebook message sent from Od’s account to one of the co-workers at the restaurant asked him to “steam some rice” and wait. No one has heard from Od since.
Od obtained refugee standing from the UNHCR in December 2017 and was waiting resettlement to a third country.
In early 2019, Truong Duy Nhat, a Vietnamese political refugee in Thailand, was also abducted. A blogger, he fled Vietnam and sought political asylum in Bangkok, before disappearing on 26 January. He was apparently abducted and taken back to Vietnam against his will. In March 2019, it was revealed that he was detained in jail in Hanoi.