Press Release — HRF to Laos: Investigate Disappearance of Activist Sombath Somphone

NEW YORK — Human Rights Foundation (HRF) urges the government of Laos to investigate the disappearance of civil society activist Sombath Somphone.

On December 15, 2012, Somphone was abducted from a police checkpoint and has not been heard from since. Family members were later allowed access to CCTV footage showing Somphone being abducted, but the communist government has maintained its lack of involvement in his disappearance.

“It has been more than three years since Somphone was taken. The CCTV footage strongly suggests that state agents are complicit in Somphone’s abduction, yet the regime has still not conducted a fair investigation nor spoken transparently about his disappearance,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “The totalitarian regime ruling Laos since 1975 is notorious for its lack of regard for human rights, and should be kept in check by the international community. We will continue to press the government of Laos for the truth about Somephone’s abduction,” he added.

After graduating from the University of Hawaii, where he studied education and agriculture, Somphone returned to Laos in 1979 to help improve the lives of poor farmers. He initiated various successful community development projects and youth leadership training programs, later establishing Participatory Development Training Center (PADETC), one of the first civil society organizations in Laos. He received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership for his work and, prior to his disappearance, helped organize the Asia Europe People’s Forum, a network of civil society organizations across Asia and Europe.

Somphone’s wife Shui-Meng Ng, who is a Singaporean citizen, continues to pressure the government for a full investigation into the disappearance. “Inside the country, nothing has been reported on – but there are hundreds of international articles and interviews about the case,” says Ng. “As long as the people inside the country don’t talk about his disappearance, the government will get away with it.” Ng hopes to engage the international community by raising awareness of his abduction: “My concern is that Sombath’s case will be forgotten with time. This is why I continue to talk about it, to raise the issue, and to ask for support.”

Shui-Meng Ng will speak about the case of Sombath Somphone at the upcoming 2016 Oslo Freedom Forum, a global conference organized annually by HRF.

Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.

Contact: Noemi Gonzalo-Bilbao, (212) 246-8486, noemi@hrf.org.

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