Laos activist feared missing in Thailand, say rights groups

Thailand and its neighbours have been accused of swapping exiled dissidents in recent years as tolerance for political activism shrivels across Southeast Asia. — Reuters pic
Thailand and its neighbours have been accused of swapping exiled dissidents in recent years as tolerance for political activism shrivels across Southeast Asia. — Reuters pic

BANGKOK, Sept 6 — A Laos activist is feared missing in Thailand, rights groups said today, calling for an urgent investigation into his whereabouts after a rash of similar disappearances of dissidents in South-east Asia.

Pro-democracy campaigner Od Sayavong was last seen nearly two weeks ago in Bangkok, where he had been living as he sought resettlement to a third country by the UN refugee agency, right groups said. 

He had been registered as a “person of concern” by the UNHCR in 2017 because of activism focused on Laos, a one-party communist state with little tolerance for dissent.

Od had campaigned for democracy and lobbied for the right of migrant workers from Laos, according to a joint statement from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR).

The statement suggested Thai authorities may have handed Od back to Laos, sparking fears he could be “the latest casualty of increased cooperation between the government of Thailand and its regional counterparts”.

Thailand and its neighbours have been accused of swapping exiled dissidents in recent years as tolerance for political activism shrivels across Southeast Asia.

The UNHCR did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Od’s case, while an officer at the police station near his home said no migrants had been arrested there in the past month.

His disappearance follows a spate of similar cases in recent years.

Five Thai activists have disappeared from their homes in Laos since 2016, and in December two of their corpses were found in the Mekong river in Thailand.

Their stomachs had been stuffed with concrete.

Rights groups believe three others have been deported from Vietnam to Thailand — although both governments deny any knowledge of their whereabouts.

A Thai activist folk band who went into hiding in Laos also fled to France to apply for asylum.

And a Vietnamese political blogger who vanished in Thailand earlier this year turned up in a Hanoi jail in March.

Defence ministry spokesperson Kongcheep Tantravanich denied knowledge of Od’s case and said Thailand does not have a policy to “suppress political refugees” from other countries. — AFP

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