Young Laotian blogger gets five years in prison
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Houayheuang Xayabouly, a Laotian blogger known as Muay Littlepig, who was sentenced to five years in prison last month for telling her fellow citizens about the government’s poor response to flooding in the south of the country.
Convicted on charges of “spreading propaganda against the Lao People's Democratic Republic” and “trying to overthrow the Party, state and government” under article 117 of the Penal Code, she was given the maximum jail sentence and a fine of 20 million kip (2,000 euros).
Aged 30 and based in Pakse, the capital of the southern province of Champasak, Muay Littlepig was arrested on 12 September for posting a video on Facebook drawing attention to the government’s negligence during the deadly flooding in Champasak and the neighbouring province of Salavan in late August and early September. Her video was viewed more than 170,000 times.
She had previously posted videos about cases of corruption and the failure to adequately address the widespread damage in the southern province of Attapeu resulting from the collapse of a dam in July 2018.
“By acting as the voice of her fellow citizens with great courage, Muay Littlepig served the public interest in a country where the news media are completely ossified,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Her harsh sentence is a grim warning to the entire Laotian population. As the charges lacked any substance, we call for her immediate and unconditional release.”
Laos is a news and information black hole in which the state apparatus has complete control over the media and relatively few people have Internet connections. A decree by the prime minister in January 2016 allowed foreign media outlets to set up office in Laos on condition that they submit content to the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party before publication. As a result, only the Chinese news agency Xinhua and the Vietnamese news agency Nhan Dan have opened bureaux in Vientiane.
Laos is ranked 171st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, one place lower than in 2018.