3 May 2023
May 2, 2023, Bangkok – Anousa Luangsouphom, also known as “Jack,” a fearless 25-year-old youth democracy activist known for his calls for justice and human rights in Laos, died on May 1, 2023, after being brutally gunned down by an individual on April 29, 2023, at a local bar ‘After School Chocolate&Bar’ in Vientiane, Laos.
The brutal murder of Jack is the latest in a string of similar attacks in recent years targeting Lao human rights activists who speak out against the authoritarian government, furthering the cycle of political violence and suppression of dissenting voices in the country. Lao authorities have a record of oppressing, repressing, and forcibly disappearing activists and human rights defenders, as well as taking part in transnational repression to silence dissent among diasporas and exiles.
The High Cost of Truth: When Speaking Out Comes at a Deadly Price
Jack was one of the administrators of a closed Facebook group “Laos Drama”, which was set up in April 2020 by citizen journalists to discuss democracy and human rights issues in Laos, counting more than 7,000 members, using the hashtag #ຖ້າການເມືອງລາວດີ (if only Lao politics were good)–a hashtag created among members of the Milk Tea Alliance across Asia. In March 2022, together with other three passionate activists, Jack created a public Facebook page ຂັບເຄື່ອນດ້ວຍຄີບອດ (“The Power of the Keyboard”) to tell the truth about #WhatsHappeningInLaos and call for true democracy.
Like its counterpart, this group is committed to uncovering and denouncing instances of human rights abuses in Laos, relentlessly scrutinizing the government’s actions, and calling for the end of one-party rule that dominates all aspects of politics and stifles civil liberties. Their mission also involves advocating for the eradication of China’s influence over Laos. The motto of the group is: “Fighting for Laos’ Survival so we don’t become China’s slave.”
The group administrators went beyond encouragement by posting calls to action for the youth to protest for a better government at That Luang, a revered national monument and symbol in Laos. They regularly shared democracy-related content from Joseph Akaravong, who was forced to flee his homeland in August 2018, living in secrecy for several years in Thailand where he faced transnational repression, until being granted asylum in France. Joseph has now gained more than 322,600 followers on Facebook and powers Youth’s public opinion.
An Extrajudicial Killing in the Hands of the Lao Government?
“The Power of the Keyboard” Facebook page rapidly gained supporters, featuring fearless young people speaking their truth to power. As a consequence, the Facebook page’s administrators have been under surveillance since February 2023 and have forged a friendship with an undercover police officer, known under the name of ‘Lar Nanthavong.’ Although an independent investigation must be undertaken to confirm the allegations, the Lao people are accusing him of the murder. One Lao netizen wrote: “You are a grown-up adult and you shot a young boy who was probably of the same age as your children. What were you thinking?”. Further evidence may confirm this connection in due time.
Given the Lao government’s notorious history of curtailing civil liberties through legislation, exerting media control, conducting surveillance, and employing illicit methods to suppress fearless human rights advocates—ranging from threats, arbitrary arrests and detentions to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings—Jack and his friends found themselves embroiled in a grave predicament against the backdrop of the oppressive Lao authoritarian regime.
A Call for Justice Driven by Young People in Laos on Social Media
Transparency and accountability must be restored with respect to the people complicit in the killing of Jack. The government must publicly commit to taking steps to ensure that such an incident and other egregious human rights violations never happen again.
A groundswell of passionate and fearless young people wants nothing less than full justice and the swift persecution of Lar Nanthavong, the suspected perpetrator. With unwavering determination, they have ignited a powerful movement that is spreading like wildfire across social media, sharing their growing distrust in the Lao authorities.
Manushya Foundation calls on the Lao authorities to start a prompt, independent, impartial, and exhaustive investigation into Jack’s killing. The investigation should be conducted by an independent body with no ties to the government. We also urge that the authorities hold accountable those responsible to ensure that the perpetrators of the crime, including the person who masterminded it, do not get away with impunity. The authorities must also provide timely and relevant information to Jack’s family, as well as prompt and adequate reparations.
We also call on the international community to draw attention to this heinous crime, and to pressure the Lao government to comply with its international human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which it ratified in September 2009. #