BANGKOK – Several international organizations around the world called on Friday on Laos to reveal the whereabouts of a prominent Lao activist who disappeared five years ago after being arrested at a police checkpoint in Vientiane.
Sombath Somphone, leader of a community development organization, was last seen on Dec. 15, 2012 on a downtown street in the country’s capital city of Vientiane.
Images captured by security cameras, which were revealed days later by his wife, Ng Shui Meng, showed how the police stopped Sombath’s car and forced him into another vehicle that arrived moments later.
Shui Meng said in December in Bangkok that several witnesses saw Sombath in a police station hours after his abduction, and added that the authorities did not give her any new information until six months after the event.
In a statement signed by 122 other organizations, the International Federation for Human Rights expressed their “outrage” over the government’s failure to clarify the case.
“The Lao government’s continued silence and obfuscation of the facts around Sombath’s enforced disappearance have subjected his family to five years of fear and uncertainty over his fate and whereabouts, which remain unknown to this day,” said the statement.
According to the statement, police officers’ decision not to intervene in the case indicates state agents’ involvement in the activist’s disappearance, and the government has not presented any new information since 2013 despite claiming that it is investigating the case.
In another statement, Human Rights Watch accused the Lao authorities of “covering up” the disappearance of Sombath, and condemned “the glaring problems of enforced disappearance, widespread rights violations, and the culture of impunity protecting government officials in Laos.”
Sombath disappeared shortly after he helped organize an NGO meeting in Laos, during which he addressed the effects on rural communities of land expropriation for the construction of dams and plants.
At least a dozen more people, including three students who were arrested during a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration in 1999, are missing in Laos, a country that signed but did not ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.