The Organising Committee of the Asia-Europe Peoples’ Forum (AEPF) expresses our shock and anger at the brazen attempted murder  of Anousa “Jack” Luangsouphom, a young Lao blogger, on Saturday, 29 April 2023.   Anousa was shot twice at point blank range by a person in plain clothes in the  After School Chocolate & Bar in Lao’s capital city Vientiane. He is currently in hospital and his family and friends are scared for his and their safety. The shooting was caught on the coffee shop’s security cameras and publicized by Laophattana Daily News (a state media outlet) as well as on Facebook and Twitter by numerous users.  However, Lao Authorities have yet to provide any updates about investigation into the attempted murder, nor have they acted to ensure the safety of Anousa and other witnesses of the attack.

Along with three colleagues, Anousa runs a public Facebook site, “Kab Kuan Duay Keyboard” (Driven By Keyboard) and a closed Facebook group “Laos Drama” on which, they post news and analyses about social, environmental, political, and human rights issues in the Lao PDR (Laos). Both sites have amassed a large following among young people, journalists, and civil society organisations both inside and outside the country. Anousa is a vocal advocate for human rights, press freedom, civil liberties, democratic pluralism and ending corruption.

Anousa’s attempted murder has sent shock waves among activists and social media users in Laos, many of whom believe that the murder was politically motivated to silence the growing movement – comprised largely of young people – for civil-political rights, freedom of expression and meaningful participation in the country’s governance. The brazenness of the attack indicates the shooter’s confidence of impunity, and has deepened fear of violent reprisals against those who speak out for sustainable development, justice, and accountability.

Judicial repression, extra-judicial violence and state reprisals are not new in Laos: in December 2012, eminent community leader Sombath Somphone was disappeared in full public view from a checkpoint manned by uniformed police and remains missing to this day.  In 2019, Od Sayavong, a member of the “Free Lao” group was disappeared in Bangkok after meeting with the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, just before his official visit to Laos. Numerous Lao people have been arrested for participating in peaceful demonstrations in Laos and Thailand, and for sharing news and views about issues considered ‘sensitive’ by the ruling regime. Lao Authorities remain silent on the whereabouts  of the disappeared and the conditions of those incarcerated, in contravention to the human rights conventions that the country is signatory to.

We join human rights organisations and civil society in condemning in the strongest possible terms the attack on Anousa and the use of brute force to silence critical and dissenting voices.     Like many young people in Laos, Anousa and his colleagues are exercising their rights to citizenship by sharing information and facilitating discussion about issues that are critical to the sustainable development of Laos and to their futures as Lao citizens.

We call on the Lao Government to immediately launch an independent, impartial, and comprehensive investigation into Anousa’s attempted murder and ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable to the highest standards of law. Equally urgent is providing protection to and ensuring the safety of Anousa and other witnesses to the attack throughout the investigation and subsequent judicial processes.

We ask Laos’ donors, who are pouring millions into the country as development aid, to urgently demand prompt, impartial and effective investigation and accountability, and an end to the pervasive culture of violence and impunity.  The European Union and other bilateral and multilateral donors who claim to be supporting human rights and civil society need to make an honest assessment as to whether their efforts are creating a false impression that human rights and civic space are actually improving in the country. Democracy can never flourish, or even take root in a social-political context of repression, violence, fear, and absence of public accountability.