Cry for Freedom in Laos, Rally in the Capital

May 6, 2010 Updated: May 10, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Demonstrators gathered in front of the Embassy of Laos in Washington May 1 to protest the country’s communist regime, despite the 82 degree heat.

Near the anniversary of the communist overthrow of the Laotian monarchy in May 1975, demonstrators delivered speeches in English and Laotian over a loud speaker.

They condemned the illegal policies and practices, human rights abuses, and corruption that exist in Laos. Inside the embassy a camera was placed in the window to record the demonstration, a sign that their presence was known.

The demonstration was sponsored by the United League for Democracy in Laos, the Center for Public Policy Analysis, The Lao Veterans of America, and the Lao Human Rights Council of Wisconsin.

“The Vietnamese Military continues to dominate Laos,” said Phillip Smith, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis in Washington, D.C. “The Lao government is a puppet regime. It serves a pleasure of the politburo in Hanoi, and has no true autonomy. It continues to persecute and kill its own people including independent Christians, independent Buddhist, dissident Buddhist groups, and other religious and ethnic minorities, including of course Falun Gong members.”

An estimated 3,000 Lao Hmong seeking asylum in Thailand were repatriated against their will back to Laos on Dec. 28, 2009. In February this year, the Laotian government allowed U.S. and Thai officials, along with some news reporters, to visit the Hmong refugees in Ponkham Village, in Bolikhamxay Province.

They were not the first of the refugees forced to return to Laos, as the Lao Hmong Human Rights council calculates that a total of 8,000 Lao Hmong refugees and asylum seekers were forced back to Laos by Thai and Laos military officials from 2007-2009.

“Many of the Hmong men were beaten, subjected to food and sleep deprivation, in order to get them to sign the fake confessions that the communist officials seek in order to intimidate and silence the Hmong refugees in Laos, and spread fear and terror among their families,” said Vaugh Vang, director of the Lao Hmong Human Rights Council.

“The Laos officials, for propaganda reasons, want the Hmong to remain silent, or say only good things about the Laos government and their treatment.”

“Let me say that Vietnam continues to exploit Laos, both militarily and economically and that includes illegal deforestation, illegal logging in Laos, which is widespread. [They] have exploited the natural resources, and do not return the monies to the Lao people; instead they are in pockets of Communist Party bureaucrats, and military generals in Hanoi and in Swiss bank accounts,” said Smith.

He communicated the group’s plea for the immediate release of the 8,000 Lao Hmong refugees that were forced back to Laos in December and are being detained at various secret camps and other refugee camps in Laos, where international access has been denied. He called for the removal of Vietnamese troops and the removal of the security secret police from Laos. And he called for the Vietnamese government to respect the sovereignty and neutrality of Laos.

Smith specifically urged the immediate release of three ethnic Hmong-Americans who have been imprisoned in Laos and lost in the Laos gulag system.

The three, Hakit Yang, Congshineng Yang, and Trillion Yunhaison, were arrested and imprisoned by Laos military and security forces in August 2007 after traveling from St. Paul to seek potential business investment opportunities in Laos.

Dr. Sien Nieh, vice president of the Alliance of Democracy in Asia, said his organization wanted to stand in solidarity with the demonstrators to “fight for human rights and human freedoms for Laos China, and other Asian troubled countries and regions.”

He said there was a growing number of Asian people quitting the communist party.

Mr. Phouthone Souvannavont, a Laotian who has been protesting the Laos regime for 12 years spoke at the rally. Now retired, Souvannavont worked for 20 years as an HVAC mechanic with the Spotsylvania County Schools.

“We want to get the communist regime out of [our] country,” he said. “Only the party is rich [but] the citizens are poor. The party is on top of the law, but there is no jail for the party. There is law just for the citizen population [of Laos]. There is a lot of corruption. Kids don’t have an education. … Only the party’s kids get money and go to good colleges. Life is terrible.”