Lao People's Democratic Republic
Head of state Choummaly Sayasone
Head of government Thongsing Thammavong
Restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly continued. Three prisoners of conscience and two Hmong political prisoners remained imprisoned. Harassment of Christians in several provinces was reported. Concerns increased over land disputes caused by development projects affecting livelihoods.
In February, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern about the lack of international access given to Hmong involuntarily returned from Thailand. In September, Laos ratified the UN Convention against Torture. In November, Laos adopted the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, despite serious concerns that it fell short of international standards. The death penalty remained mandatory for some drug offences; no official statistics were made public. Harassment of Christians in provincial areas continued, with confiscation of property, closing of churches, short-term detention and forced recanting.
Freedom of expression
Freedom of expression remained tightly controlled with media and others conforming to state policies and self-censorship. In January, the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism ordered the radio call-in programme Talk of the News to be taken off air. The programme was popular with callers complaining about land grabs and corruption.
- Prisoners of conscience Thongpaseuth Keuakoun, Bouavanh Chanhmanivong and Seng-Aloun Phengphanh remained in prison, despite the authorities' claims in September 2011 that two of them would be released. They had been imprisoned since October 1999 for trying to hold a peaceful protest.
- Ethnic Hmong Thao Moua and Pa Fue Khang had nine months deducted from their 12- and 15-year sentences respectively. They were arrested in 2003 for helping two foreign journalists gather information about Hmong groups hiding in the jungle.
Amid concerns over a rise in land disputes, in June the authorities announced a four-year moratorium on new mining investments and concessions for rubber plantations due to environmental and social concerns. Large-scale development projects intruding on villagers' land affected livelihoods, with lack of adequate compensation reported.
- In June, eight villagers were arrested for petitioning the authorities over a land dispute with a Vietnamese company granted a rubber concession in 2006 which affected Ban Yeup village, Thateng district in Sekong province. All were released within a few days, except for one man who was held for around two weeks and reportedly ill-treated before being freed.
On 15 December, Sombath Somphone, a respected member of Lao civil society well known for his work promoting education and sustainable development, was taken away in a truck by unknown persons after being stopped by police in the capital, Vientiane. He helped to organize the Asia-Europe People's Forum in Vientiane in October.