Human rights organizations have demanded an independent investigation after a Lao activist was shot and killed in a Vientiane coffee shop on Saturday (29 April).
Radio Free Asia reported that Anousa “Jack” Luangsuphom, 24, was shot twice by an unidentified gunman while sitting in a coffee shop and bar called the After School Chocolate & Bar in Vientiane’s Chanthabury district at 10.26 on Saturday (29 April). He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital early on Sunday morning (30 April).
Anousa ran the Facebook page “Kab Kuan Duay Keyboard” (“Power of the Keyboard”) with three other activists with posts about human rights abuses and corruption in Laos and criticisms of the Lao government. They also called for the end of one-party rule which represses civil liberties and advocated for an end to China’s influence over Lao. According to the Manushya Foundation, they have also called for a public protest at That Luang, a Buddhist stupa in central Vientiane considered one of Laos’ most important national monuments.
He was also an administrator of a closed Facebook group called “Laos Drama.” The group was set up in April 2020 by citizen journalists to discuss human right issues in Laos using the hashtag #ຖ້າການເມືອງລາວດີ (If only Lao politics were good) and has over 7000 members.
The shooting was recorded by the coffee shop’s CCTV cameras. Footage shows a man in a brown jacket and black cap opening the shop door with a handkerchief over the handle and appearing to speak to someone inside the shop before closing it. More footage from inside the shop shows the man entering the bar and shooting Anousa.
The gunman is still unidentified, and no arrest has been made.
Following Anousa’s death, human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty Interantional, and the Manushya Foundation, have called on the Lao government to immediately and impartially investigate his murder.
Elaine Pearson, Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director, said that Anousa’s murder “sends a spine chilling message” that critics of the Lao government are not safe and that the Lao government should launch a “credible and impartial” investigation into his death.
Human Rights Watch noted that the Lao authorities “have long failed to prevent or adequately respond to attacks against critics of the government, human rights defenders, and political activists,” such as the disappearance of community development worker Sombath Somphone, who went missing in Viantiane in 2012 and has not been seen or heard from since, or that of activist Od Sayavong, who went missing in 2019 while living in Bangkok.
“The Lao government’s apparent apathy toward the brazen, daylight killing of a political activist demonstrates the country’s further slide into lawlessness,” Pearson said. “Donor governments, UN agencies, and multilateral organizations should publicly press Lao leaders to investigate Anousa’s killing and provide answers to why this determined activist ended up paying for his courage with his life.”
Meanwhile, the Manushya Foundation noted that Anousa’s murder is “the latest in a string of similar attacks in recent years” against activists and critics of the Lao government, and that the 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 Manushya Foundation calls on the Lao government to publicly commit to ensuring that an incident like Anousa’s murder and other human right violations never happen again. The government must promptly start an impartial and exhaustive investigation into Anousa’s murder, which must be conducted by an independent body with no ties to the government, and hold the perpetrators responsible for the murder. It must also provide timely and relevant information, as well as prompt and adequate reparations to Anousa’s family.
The Foundation also calls on the international community to draw attention to the murder and to pressure the Lao government to comply with its international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which it ratified in September 2009.
Joe Freeman, Amnesty International’s Interim Deputy Regional Director for Communications, calls on the Lao authorities to “urgently launch a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation” into Anousa’s murder. He also calls on the international community and UN agencies to demand that Lao authorities ensure the full protection of human right defenders.
“No human rights defenders should be killed for their work,” said Freeman.
Amnesty International reported that two of Anousa’s activist friends told them Anousa’s murder has made people in Laos even more afraid to express critical opinions on social issues. One said that he is “deeply scared” about what may happen to him and worries about being targeted if the authorities find out he was friends with Anousa.
On 3 May, Joseph Akaravong, a Lao activist living in exile in France, posted a picture of Anousa on his Facebook page and wrote that he is still alive but hospitalised.
Human Rights Watch also said that Anousa's family and other sources confirmed with photographic evidence that Anousa is receiving medical treatment in a Vientiane hospital. The group now demands that the Lao government ensure Anousa's safety while he recovers and to undertake a thorough and impartial investigation into the shooting.
(This article was updated at 13.03 on 9 May)