Missing activist's wife says Lao government ignoring her appeals for help | Connect Asia

Missing activist's wife says Lao government ignoring her appeals for help

Missing activist's wife says Lao government ignoring her appeals for help

Updated 20 December 2012, 16:51 AEDT

The wife of a high-profile social activist has appealed to the Lao government to investigate the whereabouts of her husband, who was allegedly detained by police and has been missing for five days.

Sombath Somphone is a respected community leader who promoted youth training and handicrafts.

He was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award - sometimes referred to as Asia's answer to the Nobel Prize.

His wife, Ng Shui Meng, says a security camera shows him being stopped outside a police post and later taken away.

Presenter: Liam Cochrane

Speaker: Ng Shui Meng, wife of missing social activist Sombath Somphone


NG: My husband Sombath disappeared on the evening of 15th of December around 6pm.
COCHRANE: Now since then you've had a chance to see some security footage that was taken that you believe was him being stopped and taken away. Can you briefly tell us what that footage showed?
NG: The footage showed that he was stopped at the police post on Thadeu  Road, which is the road on the way home to our house. His jeep was stopped and then he got out of the car and went into the police post. A few minutes later a motorcycle drove and stopped at the police post. The motorcyclist got off the motorcycle, went to the police post and then very soon after that the motorcyclist came out, drove away his jeep. Then not long after a truck with flashing lights stopped off at the police post and then later we saw two men escorting my husband into the truck. Now the footage showing the men escorting my husband into the truck was rather blurred because we took the footage off the monitor of the original CCTV footage at the Vientiane municipality police station, where we requested to view the CCTV footage.
COCHRANE: So what exactly are the police doing about the case?
NG: I have not heard any information from the police or from the Ministry of Public Security. I have written two letters; one to the head of the cabinet of the Ministry of Public Security, I have not heard, the letter was on the 17th December. On the 18th December I followed up with another letter addressed to the Minister of Public Security, Mr Thongbanh Sengaphone, appealing him and informing him of this case to inform him of their investigation. But to date I have not heard anything from the police nor from any members of the Ministry of Public Security.  
COCHRANE: Was it the police that showed you the initial the security footage?
NG: Yes, we went to the municipality police station. We had reported Sombath Somphone missing, and because I had seen my husband last around that time and I saw him, he was actually in the jeep behind my car, so I asked to review the footage around that time. 
COCHRANE: If he is being held by the authorities, why do you believe that may be?
NG: I have no idea, I'm completely surprised and I have no idea whatsoever the reasons why he should be held. He's an upright citizen, he has always worked closely on development issues, working directly on issues that are relevant on social issues, and all his work has been with the cooperation and also with the approval of various government authorities.
COCHRANE: I understand he was involved in organising a parallel event on the sidelines of the recent Asia Europe Summit in Vientiane. Is there a chance that that might have annoyed the government?
NG: The Asia Europe Peoples Forum was hailed as successfully held, and he and his role was on the national organising committee on which the government is also a member of the committee. All the work has been worked through and in cooperation with the government every step of the way. I don't see how that very successful meeting could have annoyed the government. In fact at the closing ceremony,  the deputy foreign minister was on the stage together with Sombath, both gave closing statements and they were very, very cordial, handshakes among all the people who were at the podium. 
COCHRANE: I understand that your husband recently stepped down from his position as director of the Participatory Development Training Centre which he founded in 1996. What was the reason for him finishing up with the centre?
NG: Well he had wanted to retire for a long time, quite a long time, and he found that now at age 62 he wants to handover the daily responsibility of a director to other people in the organisation, and he wanted to devote his time more on writing and just to take it easy. He has worked very hard for the last 30 years, and he just wanted to retire. 
COCHRANE: Now this month Laos has also seen the head of a major Swiss aid agency, Anne-Sophie Gindroz, expelled from the country. Do you think that your husband's disappearance might be linked to a wider crackdown on NGO leaders?
NG: I don't know, I don't know whether there is any link. Based on my communication with the relevant government authorities when my husband was missing I did call and say is it because there was any link? I was informed that the expulsion of Anne-Sophie was entirely due to her letter written to the development partners at the round table meeting.
COCHRANE: Now I understand the United States Department of State has made an outreach on this issue to the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs. What sort of impact do you hope that international pressure might play in this?
NG: In fact not only the US Department of State, many of the embassies working here, the diplomatic community, the UN agencies and everybody has expressed a concern of the missing of Sombath. They have met as far as I understand with the authorities several times. We hope that the government will consider this carefully and to release information about his whereabouts, and then to releasing and ensure his safety.

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