BANGKOK (AP) — An international human rights group is urging Southeast Asian nations to pressure Laos to provide information about a social activist who has not been seen since he was apparently detained more than two months ago by state security forces.
Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations should intervene with Lao authorities, who deny knowledge of Sombath Somphone's fate even though he was last seen in police custody.
The case has put a rare spotlight on politics in the landlocked nation, which remains one of the most politically repressive nations in Asia, even as it is making a transition from Communism to a more open market economy.
Sombath's wife, Singaporean native Ng Shui Meng, has been campaigning for her husband's freedom in Laos and on the Internet.
"The Lao government's long silence about Sombath Somphone's whereabouts increase our concerns for his safety," Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "The authorities seem more focused on deflecting international criticism than genuinely investigating Sombath's disappearance."
The New York-based group said it sent a letter to the human rights commission of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, pointing out that it has the right to obtain information from member states on human rights protection.
Sombath disappeared on Dec. 15 after he was stopped at a police checkpoint in Vientiane. A few days later, the Lao Foreign Ministry said he may have "been kidnapped perhaps because of a personal conflict or a conflict in business." It said "authorities concerned are currently and seriously investigating." Accounts from Sombath's wife and supporters, however, suggest that any investigation has been slipshod at best.
The latest U.S. State Department human rights report, for 2011, described Laos as an authoritarian state under one-party Communist rule, and that arbitrary arrests and detentions persist despite laws prohibiting them. Continued...