Archive for ‘Free Speech’

September 19, 2014

Laos NGO restrictions threaten development, say non-profit groups


NGOs fear new curbs on their work will stunt growth of poor Southeast Asian nation where independent civil society remains largely undeveloped

Erin Hale and Aleksander Solum

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 September, 2014, 11:43am

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NGOs fear new curbs on their work will halt development in Laos. Photo: EPA

Landlocked Laos, the poorest member of Asean, may be taking a page from Beijing’s playbook with a new set of restrictions for NGOs operating in the country, which have alarmed both non-profit groups and Western diplomats.

Foreign and local NGOs play a crucial role guiding development strategy and leading discussions about land redevelopment in the small communist nation, whose civil society is still embryonic after two decades of isolation that ended in the 1990s. The new set of restrictions could damage that role by burying organisations in red tape, according to two draft decrees obtained by the South China Morning Post.

The first decree, on foreign NGOs, said they would be placed under the supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This change mirrors legislation passed in Russia in 2012, which classifies all overseas NGOs as “foreign agents,” and an operation underway in China to investigate the work of all foreign non-profit groups.

The second decree on local non-profit groups imposes restrictions on their ability to receive overseas funding and donations. All non-profit groups would have to report any donation greater than 50 million kip (HK$47,200) to the Ministry of Finance. Foreign donations higher than 100 million kip would have to receive approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, and the Department of Home Affairs.

The same decree also states that the work of domestic non-profit groups should be limited to providing “support” in the fields of agriculture, education, public health, sport, science, and humanitarian benefits. At the moment, both foreign and domestic NGOs in Laos work in a variety of fields from civil society development to rural agricultural assistance.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to a request for comment, but Western embassies in Vientiane say they are aware of the two draft decrees and concerned about their impact on non-profit groups and NGOs.

The role of NGOs in the country, ruled by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party since 1975, holds a particular significance because of its extremely small civil society compared to other Southeast Asian nations. NGOs and non-profits make up some of the only independent space in Laotian society for open discussions on issues ranging from economic development to education.

Laos stands out in contrast to neighbours like Myanmar, which despite its long-time rule by the military managed to develop an independent civil society, according to John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director of the Washington-based Human Rights Watch.

“If a human rights defender like Aung Sang Suu Kyi were to stand up in Laos and speak out against authoritarian rule, she would be immediately arrested. And unlike Aung Sang Suu Kyi, having the luxury of living under house arrest, you would just be taken off to prison and never seen again,” he said.

The government is likely targeting NGOs with new curbs because many work in the field of development – a controversial topic in Laos in recent years. The country has the dubious distinction of being the least developed in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Despite opening its doors to foreign investment from Vietnam, Thailand, and China, its GDP is just US$9.2 billion – five times smaller than Myanmar, and 40 times smaller than Thailand.

Recent foreign investment projects have relied on large and controversial land concessions to make way for rubber plantations, mining operations, forestry projects and hydroelectric dams, which have sometimes proved controversial. Photo: EPA

Recent foreign investment projects have relied on large and controversial land concessions to make way for rubber plantations, mining operations, forestry projects and hydroelectric dams. Clear cutting is pervasive in some parts of Laos, particularly in the northwest of the country, near the Chinese border. The United Nations Environment Programme, for example, states that “[More than] 1,200 large-scale land projects, involving 80 million hectares of land, have been sold or leased to international investors since 2001, mostly over the last two years,” on its Poverty-Environment Initiative webpage for Laos.

The government has steadily changed its attitude towards NGOs since Laos hosted the ninth Asia-Europe Forum in 2012, a meeting of heads of state from Asia and Europe. The meeting was accompanied by a parallel session of NGOs and civil society leaders, the Asia-Europe People’s Forum. The forum covered issues from human rights to environmental justice, topics which had not been previously discussed in Laos in such a public manner.

“The Asia-Europe People’s Forum may have shocked some people. There was a lot of public security involved. A lot of things were discussed at that event that may have [made] people … wary or anxious, because they had not been exposed to international civil society before,” said a senior foreign NGO worker based in Laos, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions.

The success of the conference was followed by two events that rocked Laos’s NGO community: the disappearance of its foremost civil society leader, Sombath Somphone, and the expulsion of one of the conference organisers, Anne-Sophie Gindroz, an outspoken Swiss NGO director.

Sombath Somphone, seen in this file photo after winning the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2005, was abducted in in Vientiane in 2012 and has not been seen since. Photo: AP

The NGO worker said that while it had been difficult to work in Laos before 2012, since the conference the landscape had slowly gotten more restrictive. She said that it was not unusual to get “friendly warnings” from the government about what the NGO could or could not do. “Usually it comes in the form of advice or even a request – people from Laotian organisations going to an international workshop urging them to say positive things,” she said. “Laos is such a small country and it’s easy to trace things back to people, and so it’s so easy to threaten people.”

However, she said that the ability to operate in the country had become more difficult since 2012. “Before, international NGOs that were in the country long enough to develop a trusting relationship with their government counterparts could sometimes implement their approved project activities without government staff being present all the time,” she said. “Now the government is much more on top of everything and present during field visits.”

Ounkeo Souksavanh, a Laotian journalist who now lives in the United States, said it is possible that the government had been challenged by discussions about development policy, which are often led by NGOs and other civil society groups. He had his own run-in with the government after his radio programme, Wao Kao (Talk of the News) began to invite villagers to call in and talk about issues relating to land redevelopment. Though the programme was popular, the government cancelled it in January 2012.

“Over the past five years, civil society organisations have developed [by themselves]. It seems like civil society organisations [have begun] to have strong positions [against] policymakers who get involved in conflicts of interest,” he said.

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August 16, 2014

10th Years Anniversary Celebration of Lao Heritage and Freedom Flag!

Congratulation to 10th years Anniversary Celebration of Lao Heritage and Freedom Flag!

And Congratulation to Lao-American Community of Massachusetts (Lowell)

Lowell, Massachusetts.  It is an honor to speak on behalf of Brothers and Sisters Lao Community, and to Lao-American Community as a whole for the success of 10th years Anniversary Celebration of Lao Heritage and Freedom Flag Raising (Sat. Aug. 16, 2014 in front of the Lowell City Hall) with important recognition the freedom of speech, freedom of justice and freedom of practice democracy and the national “Recognition.” (Aug. 10, 2004).

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Photos courtesy of Manothay M Naovarangsy, August 16, 2014.

July 1, 2014

Hong Kong: Democracy rally ‘draws 510,000 protesters’

BBC News - Asia

Hong Kong: Democracy rally ‘draws 510,000 protesters’

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Tens of thousands of residents joined the annual pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong Tuesday, July 1, 2014.
The demonstration brought large parts of Hong Kong to a standstill

Tens of thousands of protesters have taken part in what organisers say could be Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy rally in a decade.

Organisers said turnout was 510,000, while police said about 98,600 took part during the peak of the march.

The annual rally, marking the day Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, was to demand full electoral freedom.

It came after an unofficial referendum on how to choose Hong Kong’s next chief executive drew close to 800,000 votes.

China says it will introduce universal suffrage for the 2017 election – but wants the final say over who can run.

The Hong Kong government said the 10-day referendum had no legal standing.

BBC-Hong Kong

Organisers were hoping more than half a million people would attend, as Juliana Liu reports

While organisers put the number of those joining Monday’s rally from Victoria Park to the city’s Central district at more than half a million, the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme estimated a turnout of between 154,000 and 172,000.

The organisers’ figure would make the march the largest since 2004, when 530,000 were estimated to have taken part in a pro-democracy demonstration.

The annual 1 July rally first gained prominence in 2003, when half a million people demonstrated against proposed anti-subversion laws which were later scrapped.


‘Unauthorised sit-in’

Roads around Victoria Park were closed off and footage showed key roads jammed with marchers.

Reports said protesters were still in the park as the first marchers arrived in the Central district four hours later, giving an idea of the scale of the rally.

Security was tight, with about 4,000 police officers on patrol.

After the march, hundreds of protesters staged a sit-in in the Central district. Police said the sit-in was “unauthorised” and began removing some of the participants in the early hours of Tuesday.

Some demonstrators linked arms in a bid to resist being moved.

Pro-democracy activists display placards before a pro-democracy rally seeking greater democracy in Hong Kong on 1 July, 2014 as frustration grows over the influence of Beijing on the city
Activists called for greater democracy in Hong Kong
Thousands of pro-democracy protesters gather to march in the streets to demand universal suffrage in Hong Kong on 1 July, 2014
Protesters filled Victoria Park, where the march began
Demonstrators sit in a street of the central district after a pro-democracy rally seeking greater democracy in Hong Kong on 1 July 2014
Some demonstrators staged a sit-in in the business district after the rally

At the scene: Juliana Liu, BBC News, Hong Kong

Chanting “genuine democracy” and “CY Leung step down”, tens of thousands braved the heat and rain to march for full voting rights.

CY Leung, the current chief executive, was elected in 2012 by a committee of just 1,200 members, who were believed to be largely loyal to the Chinese government. The protesters fear that in 2017 the shortlist of candidates to replace him will selected by a similar group, making universal suffrage essentially meaningless.

But that is exactly what is likely to happen, unless there is some kind of compromise.

A senior Hong Kong government official told reporters recently that the next chief executive must be appointed by Beijing.


‘Stability, prosperity’

Speaking earlier at a ceremony to mark the 17th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China, Hong Kong leader CY Leung said that the government was trying hard to forge a consensus on political reform.

“Only by maintaining Hong Kong’s stability can we sustain our economic prosperity. Only by sustaining Hong Kong’s prosperity can we improve people’s livelihoods,” Mr Leung said.

The unofficial referendum, organised by campaign group Occupy Central, allowed the public to decide which of three proposals – all of which involved allowing citizens to directly nominate candidates – to present to Beijing.

Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 following a 1984 agreement between China and Britain.

China agreed to govern Hong Kong under the principle of “one country, two systems”, where the city would enjoy “a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs” for 50 years.

As a result, Hong Kong has its own legal system, and rights including freedom of assembly and free speech are protected.



April 18, 2014

Sombath Somphon the “Nelson Mandela of Laos,”


Kidnapping In Laos Affects Civil Society

Sombath Somphone is “one of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic’s most respected civil society figures,” according  to a December 2013 press statement from Secretary of State John Kerry on the one year anniversary of Sombath’s disappearance. Sombath was kidnapped from a police checkpoint in Laos and has not been heard from since. Sombath’s wife, Ng Shui-Meng, will be speaking about her husband’s disappearance and the challenges to free speech and human rights in Laos and in the rest of Southeast Asia while in Eugene on Monday, April 21.

“Laos has taken steps in recent years to become a responsible partner in the community of nations,” Kerry writes. “Sombath’s abduction threatens to undermine those efforts.”

Ng Shui-Meng says that while some have called Sombath the “Nelson Mandela of Laos,” her husband was never involved in politics. He worked in nonviolence and consensus building, she says, and always worked with the approval of government officials. Sombath established the Participatory Development Training Center in Laos, which works to train young people and local government officials in community-based development.

She says one link to Sombath’s disappearance could be his involvement in the Asia Europe People’s Forum (AEPF9) that took place from Oct. 16 to 19, 2012, in Vientiane, Laos, as part of his civil society work. Civil society groups are non-governmental organizations and other groups working on issues including health, education and living standards in both developed and developing nations.

The forum sought to promote universal social protection and access to essential services, food sovereignty and sustainable land and natural resource management, sustainable energy production and use, and just work and sustainable livelihoods, according to the AEPF9 website.

Ng Shui-Meng, who is also involved in civil society work, is in the U.S. to promote awareness of Sombath’s disappearance in hopes of his safe return, she says. She says she will talk about who her husband is and the type of work he has being doing the last 30 years, what happened the day of his abduction as well as the aftermath and impact on the civil society movement. “In Laos there is not much media freedom, freedom of organization or freedom of assembly,” she says.

Ng Shui-Meng speaks at 6 pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 1685 W. 13th Ave.

Video footage of Sombath Somphone’s disappearance Dec. 15, 2012 in Laos.

April 11, 2014

Vietnam Dissident Released, Arrives in US – เวียดนามปล่อยตัวนักโทษการเมือง


Vietnam Dissident Released, Arrives in US

WASHINGTON April 8, 2014 (AP)

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This file picture taken on April 4, 2011 shows French-trained prominent dissident and legal expert Cu Huy Ha Vu (Center) in court in Hanoi during his trial. One of Vietnam’s most prominent dissidents, who was jailed after trying to sue the prime minister, has been freed and has left for the United States, a US official said Tuesday. — PHOTO: AFP

ภาพถ่ายเมื่อวันที่ 4 เม.ย. 2554 เผยให้เห็น นายกู่ฮวีห่าหวู (กลาง) ยืนอยู่ในศาลกรุงฮานอย ระหว่างการพิจารณาคดี นายหวูเป็นหนึ่งในผู้เห็นต่างกับรัฐที่มีชื่อเสียงที่สุดของเวียดนาม ถูกตัดสินจำคุกหลังพยายามฟ้องร้องนายกรัฐมนตรี ล่าสุดนายหวูได้รับการปล่อยตัวเป็นอิสระและตัดสินใจเดินทางไปสหรัฐฯ.– Agence France-Presse/Files/ Vietnam News Agency.

A prominent Vietnamese dissident whose father was an associate of the nation’s founding president Ho Chi Minh arrived in the U.S. Monday after being released from prison by Vietnam, the State Department said.

Cu Huy Ha Vu arrived on a flight to Washington with his wife. He is a legal scholar and among the ruling Communist Party’s highest-profile critics.

In a one-day trial, Vu was sentenced in April 2011 to seven years in prison and three years of house arrest on charges that included conducting propaganda against the state, calling for multiparty government and demanding the abolishment of the party’s leadership.

“The United States welcomes the decision by Vietnamese authorities to release prisoner of conscience Dr. Cu Huy Ha Vu,” Aaron Jensen, a spokesman for the State Department’s bureau of democracy, human rights and labor, told The Associated Press.

Jensen said Vu and his wife, Nguyen Thi Duong Ha, had decided to travel to the U.S. after Vu’s release. He provided no further details on the circumstance of the release, and a spokesman at the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington declined to comment.

Vu is among the many government critics who have been imprisoned as the one-party authoritarian state cracks down on dissent amid widespread concerns over its handling of a stuttering economy. He’s among the highest-profile as his father Cu Huy Can was a revolutionary poet and a minister in Ho’s government.

Vu was arrested in 2010 after attempting to sue Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung twice — first for approving a Chinese-built bauxite mining project in Vietnam’s central highlands, and later for prohibiting the filing of class-action lawsuits. The first suit was rejected by a Hanoi court, and the second was ignored.

Vu reportedly went on hunger strike between late May and mid-June over alleged poor treatment in prison.

The U.S. has sought closer ties with its former enemy, Vietnam, in recent years, but relations have been hobbled by concerns over Hanoi’s rights record. President Barack Obama, however, met current Vietnam President Truong Tan Sang at the White House last July.

 Vietnam releases high-profile dissident who tried to sue PM

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Published on Apr 8, 2014

HANOI (AFP) – One of Vietnam’s most prominent dissidents, who was jailed after trying to sue the prime minister, has been freed and has left for the United States, a US official said Tuesday.

French-trained lawyer Cu Huy Ha Vu, the son of a Vietnamese revolutionary leader, was sentenced in April 2011 to seven years in prison for “anti-state activity”.

The release of the 55-year-old, who last year staged a hunger strike to draw attention to his treatment in jail, followed intense campaigning by rights groups and foreign governments.

“We welcome the decision by Vietnamese authorities to release prisoner of conscience Dr Cu Huy Ha Vu,” US Embassy spokesman Spencer Cryder told AFP.

เวียดนามปล่อยตัวนักโทษการเมืองชื่อดัง ยังไร้สาเหตุแน่ชัด

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เอเอฟพี – เจ้าหน้าที่สหรัฐฯ เผยวานนี้ (8) ว่า หนึ่งในผู้เห็นต่างกับรัฐที่มีชื่อเสียงที่สุดของเวียดนาม ที่ถูกโทษจำคุกหลังพยายามฟ้องร้องนายกรัฐมนตรี ได้รับการปล่อยตัวเป็นอิสระและเดินทางไปสหรัฐฯ เป็นที่เรียบร้อย

นายกู่ฮวีห่าหวู (Cu Huy Ha Vu) บุตรชายของนายกู่ฮวีเกิ่น แกนนำปฏิวัติ ถูกตัดสินโทษจำคุกเมื่อเดือน เม.ย. 2554 เป็นเวลา 7 ปี ในความผิด “ดำเนินกิจกรรมต่อต้านรัฐ”

การปล่อยตัวนายหวู ที่เมื่อปีก่อนได้อดข้าวประท้วงเพื่อเรียกร้องความสนใจต่อการปฏิบัตที่ได้ เขารับในเรือนจำ มีขึ้นหลังกลุ่มสิทธิมนุษยชน และรัฐบาลต่างชาติวิพากษ์วิจารณ์อย่างหนัก

“เรายินดีต่อการตัดสินใจของทางการเวียดนามที่ปล่อยตัวนักโทษการเมือง ดร.กู่ฮวีห่าหวู” โฆษกสถานทูตสหรัฐฯ กล่าว

“ดร.หวู และภรรยา ตัดสินใจเดินทางไปยังสหรัฐฯ หลังได้รับการปล่อยตัว และเดินทางถึงกรุงวอชิงตัน ดี.ซี. เมื่อวันจันทร์ (7)” เจ้าหน้าที่คนเดิมกล่าว แต่ปฏิเสธที่จะระบุว่านายหวู จะพำนักอยู่ในสหรัฐฯ อย่างถาวรหรือไม่

ฝ่ายรัฐบาลเวียดนาม ไม่ได้ระบุถึงเหตุผลในการปล่อยตัวนายหวู แต่ยืนยันว่า ภรรยาของนายหวูมีอาการเจ็บป่วยจากโรคหัวใจ ด้านทนายความของนายหวูกล่าวว่า เหตุผลการปล่อยตัวยังไม่ชัดเจน

นายกู่ฮวีห่าหวู ถูกจับกุมตัวในปี 2553 หลังพยายามฟ้องร้องนายกรัฐมนตรีเหวียน เติ๋น ยวุ๋ง แต่ไม่ประสบความสำเร็จ เกี่ยวกับแผนการก่อสร้างเหมืองแร่ที่ก่อให้เกิดการคัดค้านเป็นวงกว้าง

หัวหน้าผู้พิพากษาในการพิจารณาคดีระบุว่า งานเขียน และบทสัมภาษณ์ของนายหวู เป็นการป้ายสีพรรคคอมมิวนิสต์เวียดนาม

อดีตศัตรูสงครามเวียดนาม และสหรัฐฯ ได้ทำงานร่วมกันที่จะพัฒนาความสัมพันธ์ในช่วงหลายสิบปีที่ผ่านมา แต่ประเด็นปัญหาเกี่ยวกับสิทธิมนุษยชนยังคงเป็นอุปสรรคต่อการพัฒนาความ สัมพันธ์ของ 2 ประเทศ

เวียดนาม มักถูกประณามโดยกลุ่มสิทธิมนุษยชน และรัฐบาลชาติตะวันตก ต่อการไม่ยอมรับความคิดเห็นทางการเมืองที่แตกต่าง และการละเมิดเสรีภาพในการนับถือศาสนา

รองผู้อำนวยการฮิวแมนไรท์วอช ประจำภูมิภาคเอเชีย ระบุว่า การปล่อยตัวนายหวู เป็นการพัฒนาที่น่ายินดี โดยเฉพาะอย่างยิ่งปัญหาสุขภาพของนายหวู ขณะที่ถูกจำคุกอย่างไม่เป็นธรรมโดยเจ้าหน้าที่เวียดนาม

“นายหวู ไม่ควรถูกจำคุกตั้งแต่แรก เพราะสิ่งที่ นายหวู กระทำไปทั้งหมดนั้นเป็นการใช้สิทธิของตัวเองในการแสดงความคิดเห็นอย่างเสรี” ฟิล โรเบิร์ตสัน กล่าว

เวียดนาม ไม่อนุญาตเอกชนผลิตสื่อ หนังสือพิมพ์ทุกฉบับ และสถานทีโทรทัศน์ทุกช่องล้วนเป็นกิจการของรัฐ ทนายความ บล็อกเกอร์ และนักเคลื่อนไหวมักตกเป็นเป้าในการจับกุม และควบคุมตัวอย่างไม่มีสาเหตุ

องค์กรนักข่าวไร้พรมแดนระบุเมื่อต้นเดือนว่า เวียดนามมีบล็อกเกอร์ถูกควบคุมตัวอย่างน้อย 34 คน เป็นรองเพียงแค่จีนเท่านั้น.

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