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Thai authorities should immediately and impartially investigate the killing of an exiled Lao political activist, Bounsuan Kitiyano, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday (24 May).

On May 17, 2023, Bounsuan’s body was found with three gunshot wounds in the forest in Si Mueang Mai district, Ubon Ratchathani province in northeastern Thailand, bordering Laos. The initial police investigation indicated that he was shot while riding alone on his motorcycle through the forest.

“This cold-blooded killing of a prominent exiled Lao political activist demands an immediate response from the Thai authorities,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Thai government should urgently conduct a credible and impartial investigation into Bounsuan’s death and bring to justice all those responsible.”

Bounsuan, 56, was a former member of the Free Laos group and was recognized as a refugee by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He was involved in several protests in front of the Lao Embassy in Bangkok calling for respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The killing of Bounsuan in Thailand sends a spine-chilling message that nowhere is safe for critics of the Lao government. On April 29, an unidentified gunman shot and seriously wounded Anousa Luangsuphom, an activist and online critic of the Lao government, in the capital, Vientiane.

Even activists who have fled persecution in Laos to neighboring countries have not been safe. Od Sayavong, a leading Lao human rights and democracy activist living in Bangkok, Thailand, has been missing since August 2019. On October 1, 2019, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and three UN special rapporteurs issued a joint statement expressing concerns regarding Sayavong’s case.

The Thai government has consistently failed to prevent or adequately respond to attacks against political critics of repressive neighboring governments of Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Thai government’s unacceptable deference to abusive neighbors is once again taking priority over its international human rights and legal obligations,” Pearson said. “The new government that will take office following the May 14 elections has an urgent agenda to reestablish Thailand as a place where refugees are protected.”

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