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Laos v. Bounthanh Khammavong

Closed Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Electronic / Internet-based Communication
  • Date of Decision
    September 18, 2015
  • Outcome
    Imprisonment
  • Case Number
    N/A
  • Region & Country
    Lao People's Democratic Republic, Asia and Asia Pacific
  • Judicial Body
    Supreme (court of final appeal)
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    Political Expression
  • Tags
    Censorship, Social Media

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

Bounthanh Khammavong was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison under Article 65 of the Lao Penal Code. He was found guilty of “disseminating propaganda against the government with the intention of undermining the state” by the Supreme Court in Vientiane on September 18, 2015 after making online criticism directed at the Lao government on Facebook.

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify the official legal and government records on the case and that the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. It must be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.


Facts

Bounthanh Khammavong was born in Lao PDR before being forced into exile from his own country. He relocated in Poland and founded the Organization of Lao Students for Independence and Democracy and managed to receive Polish citizenship. He came back to Laos in 2010 for business. [1]

The exact message he posted on Facebook and the date he posted it is unknown. However, Colonel Thonglek Mangnormek, deputy director general of the Ministry of Public Security Police Department said that Bounthanh has been found guilty of “campaigning and carrying out activities against the regime of the country” and also for criticizing the guidelines and policies of the party and government. [2]

Bounthanh was arrested in June and was charged under Article 65 of the Penal Code, which states that “[a]ny person responsible for the safekeeping, preservation and use of documents pertaining to State secrets who discloses such secrets or allows the disclosure of such secrets or loses such documents shall be punished by three to five years of imprisonment and shall be fined from 500,000 Kip to 10,000,000 Kip.” [3] He was sentenced to four years and nine months in jail by the Supreme Court in Vientiane on September 18, 2015. His wife asked the Polish government for his extradition so that he could spend time at a prison in Poland. The transfer seems to be possible according to the officials of the Lao foreign ministry. However, Bounthanh will have to serve one year of his sentence in Laos first before being transferred to Poland. [4]

According to the Radio Free Asia, Bounthanh did not receive legal assistance which made the prosecution and sentencing of the case unfair. [5] Vanida Thephsouvanh, president of the Paris-based Lao Movement for Human Rights commented on this case and said that this is further “proof that free expression has no place in the country.” [6]

[1] Joshua Lipes, Lao Court Jails Polish Activist Following Online Criticism of Government, Radio Free Asia, (Oct. 1, 2015), http://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/activist-10012015134330.html.

[2] Joshua Lipes, Lao Court Jails Polish Activist Following Online Criticism of Government, Radio Free Asia, (Oct. 1, 2015), http://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/activist-10012015134330.html.

[3] Joshua Lipes, Lao Court Jails Polish Activist Following Online Criticism of Government, Radio Free Asia, (Oct. 1, 2015), http://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/activist-10012015134330.html.

[4] Roseanne Gerin, Wife of Jailed Lao Activist Asks Poland’s Justice Ministry for Help with Extradition, Radio Free Asia, (Oct. 8, 2015), http://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/wife-of-jailed-lao-activist-asks-polands-justice-ministry-for-help-with-extradition-10082015141536.html

[5] Joshua Lipes, Lao Court Jails Polish Activist Following Online Criticism of Government, Radio Free Asia, (Oct. 1, 2015), http://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/activist-10012015134330.html.

[6] Joshua Lipes, Lao Court Jails Polish Activist Following Online Criticism of Government, Radio Free Asia, (Oct. 1, 2015), http://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/activist-10012015134330.html.


Decision Overview

The case does not have much detail and cannot be found elsewhere apart from the information provided by the Radio Free Asia. The official court case also cannot be found.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

The case contracts expression as Bounthanh’s right to freedom of expression has been violated by the authorities. Criticizing the government over Facebook should not be considered as a crime.

Freedom House reported in 2014 that the ruling communist party strongly controlled the media in Laos. [1] In September 2014, the Lao government issued a law that prohibits online criticism of the government and the ruling communist party. [2] The law is called Decree No. 327 which has the objective of “defining the principles, regulations and measures for managing information on the Internet to secure the stability of the nation, peace, and social order. It is focused on protecting dignity and benefits of service providers, service users, and society in order to contribute to the task of protecting the country and constructing the nation.” [3]

Bounthanh should not be in prison simply because he exercised his rights of freedom of expression on social media. The case is considered to be unfair according to its circumstance.

[1] Freedom House, Freedom of the Press of Laos in 2014, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2014/laos.

[2] Joshua Lipes, New Decree Prohibits Online Criticism of Lao Government Policies, Radio Free Asia, (Sept. 24, 2014), http://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/decree-09242014143032.html

[3] Chapter 1 of the Decree, available at http://rightslinklao.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2014/10/Decree_327_-_Mangagement_of_Internet_-_16_Sep_2014.pdf.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Laos, Penal Code, art. 65

    “Any person conducting propaganda activities against and slandering the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, or distorting the guidelines of the Party and policies of the government, or circulating false rumours causing disorder by words, in writing, through print, newspapers, motion pictures, videos, photographs, documents or other media which are detrimental to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic or are for the purpose of undermining or weakening State authority shall be punished by one to five years of imprisonment and shall be fined from 500,000 Kip to 10,000,000 Kip.”

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

Official Case Documents

Reports, Analysis, and News Articles:


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