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Thank you Mr President,
The European Union has been following very closely the arrest last year and the sentencing of the three citizens about who we are debating today: Somphone Phimmasone, Lod Thammavong and Soukane Chaithad – three young people charged with criticizing their government online while working abroad.
The European Union Delegation has carried out several discussions on this case with the Lao authorities, including at ministerial level. We also raised the case in the EU-Laos Human Rights Dialogue that took place earlier this year.
We asked for a fair and transparent trial that could be observed by the international diplomatic community, as well as access to lawyers and families for the detainees. Their three names were included in our list of “persons of concern” – based on the work we do with and for human rights defenders. During the dialogue, we handed over this list to the authorities of Laos.
The sentences given to the three are long and disproportionate, as many of you have mentioned. After their arrest was announced, the authorities provided assurances that the international community would be able to observe the trial, but we learnt about the hearing only two months after it actually happened; the news broke out in the media, instead of being reported by the authorities, as would have been the normal thing to happen.
The European Union is also following closely other similar cases in the country.
In our contacts with the authorities, we have called on Laos to uphold its national and international human rights obligations. We have urged Laos to protect freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. The right to a fair and transparent trial and the right of detainees to obtain access to their families and to a lawyer should also be ensured, always.
During the Universal Periodic Review in January 2015, under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council, Laos committed to protecting freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and association. All these rights are guaranteed by the national Constitution of Laos, as revised in 2015, and by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that Laos ratified in 2009. So, we expect Laos to maintain its own commitment, taken at international and national level.
In a few months' time we will have another opportunity to formally raise this issue in our Human Rights Dialogue with Laos. We truly hope and believe that the situation should have been addressed by then. If that is not the case, we will continue to raise the issue, we will continue to discuss their situation with the authorities of the country.
These three young people have already spent over one year in jail – only for having expressed their opinions in public. As some of you said, [expressing opinions in public is] something that in our democracies looks completely normal. Every day they spend in custody is one too many.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I143283