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Laos


-  Surface area: 236 800 sq. km.
-  Population: 5,279,000
-  Languages: Lao, dialects
-  Type of State: unitary republic
-  Head of State: Khamtay Siphandone
-  Head of Government: Boungnang Vorachith

Laos annual report 2002

One step forward, one step back. In 2001, the communist regime of Vientiane successively announced that they adopted rules reinforcing their control over the media, then prepared a bill allowing the creation of private media. Nevertheless, this regime, one of the predators of press freedom, has made no concessions to political openness.

All media are controlled by the State or by institutions close to the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. The press reprints verbatim dispatches from the official press agency Khaosan Pathet Lao. Journalists are all employees of the Ministry of Information and Culture. Each week, media editors and ministry officials meet to comment on articles published and carry out collective self-criticism.

On 8 June 2001, Phandouangchit Vongsa, Minister of Information and Culture, announced a new rule to reinforce control over local media by training journalists to cover information in a way that is "more favourable to the government". The Minister said, "their reports must take into account the long-term objective of the Party to free the country from poverty by 2020." No sanctions were defined in this rule, but current legislation provides for prison sentences of five to fifteen years for journalists who write "unconstructive" articles.

On 26 October, five European activists of the Transnational Radical Party, including the European Parliament member Olivier Dupuis, unfurled banners in the centre of Vientiane to mark the second anniversary of the Laotian student demonstrations of 26 October 1999. Police arrested and manhandled these Westerners. The authorities refused to provide any information on this incident to foreign media. The Transnational Radical Party attempted to focus attention on the disappearance of the five leaders of the October 1999 student movement. Among them, Thongpaseuth Keuakoun is the author of many articles and pamphlets on the situation in Laos and the need for democratic reforms. Laotian authorities have not given any news of him since October 1999.

In December, the Ministry of Information and Culture announced that it was preparing a press law. If this mass media law is adopted in April 2002, it should allow the creation of private media, as long as they "respect Party policies". This bill, the first of its kind in Laos, would impose very strict control over private press: journalists and publishers must be Laotian and live in Laos; articles "against government interests" will be forbidden; and media must follow the "orders of a regulatory commission" which will have the power to close down recalcitrant publications.

President Khamtay Siphandone has been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters without Borders.



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see also
Introduction
Annual report 2002

Hard times for press freedom
Africa annual report 2002
Americas annual report 2002
Europe annual report 2002
Maghreb / Middle-East annual report 2002