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#JusticeForBounsuan: Another Lao Activist Gunned Down! This time, he’s DEAD!





#JusticeForBounsuan: Another Lao Activist Gunned Down! This time, he’s DEAD!


State-sponsored terror: the alarming surge of transnational repression (TNR) of democracy activists by the Lao government


As national and transnational repression has spiked, we felt it was absolutely necessary to share with you our concerns and the recent tragic news of the growing attacks against Lao democracy and human rights activists.

A Macabre Discovery…

A week ago, on May 17, 2023, the body of Kitiyano Bounsuan, a 56-year-old Lao refugee recognized by UNHCR, was discovered in Ubon Ratchathani Province, in the Isaan region of Thailand[1], which borders Laos. Kitiyano was a member of ‘Free Laos’, a democracy group formed by Lao workers and activists exiled in Thailand. In the past, he staged protests in front of the Lao Embassy in Bangkok in 2015[2], calling for democracy and respect for human rights in Laos. Kitiyano also tried to mobilize protests inside Laos; but these failed. Lao authorities had arrested some organizers in order to stop the demonstrations. His activism made him a prime target of the Lao government. He had to live in hiding, in exile in Thailand. He was days away from being relocated to Australia, awaiting to live his life freely. But he was gunned down and killed before he flew in a country where he could enjoy his freedom of speech!

The Lao government severely restricts civil liberties through legislation, media control, surveillance, and intimidation[3], leading to self-censorship and a closed civic space with no independent civil society[4]. Meanwhile, Lao human rights defenders (HRDs) face increasing persecution and silencing by the Lao government, resulting in arbitrary arrests, torture, unjust prosecution and enforced disappearances[5]. The tragic death of Kitiyano Bounsuan falls into a context of generalized and widespread repression of Lao human rights activists. In the last few weeks, we documented the multiple attempts from the Lao government to silence the growing voice of Lao dissidents.


The disturbing wave of recent attacks against Lao activists

Kitiyano Bounsuan is not the only Lao activist who had to face violent and arbitrary retaliation from the Lao government. His murder is part of a recent uptick in violent crackdowns and repression against Lao democracy activists:

  • On 29 April, Anousa “Jack[6]” Luangsouphom, a Lao youth democracy activist was brutally gunned down[7] in Vientiane, Laos[8].

  • On 20 April, Savang Phaleuth[9], a member of the ‘Free Laos’ democracy group, a network of Lao workers and activists exiled in Thailand, was arrested while he was visiting his family in Savannakhet, Laos.

Lies, lies…and more lies! A tale as old as time

Do you know what the suggested motive by the Thai police behind the killing of Kittiyano Bounsuan is? Personal dispute[10]! The same convenient motive was quickly brought forward by Lao authorities for the case of Jack[11]…and has been regularly claimed by the Lao government in cases involving attacks against human rights activists since at least the enforced disappearance of Lao activist Sombath Somphone in 2012.


Our theories behind the uptick in killings and repression of Lao Activists

The Lao new Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone was appointed on 30 December 2022[12] and it is likely that the increased violence against Lao activists is to suppress any dissenting voice that would undermine his authority and image ahead of important international summits like the ASEAN People’s forum coming up in Jakarta on 1 to 3 September 2023 [13] and the ASEAN Summit that took place from 9 May to 11 May 2023[14]. Most importantly, Laos will assume the Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2024. Are Lao authorities trying to get rid of activists ahead of being under high scrutiny next year? But not only, are Lao authorities scared of the democratic change in Thailand?

Why have Lao authorities recently increased their repression against activists?

A recap:

  • ASEAN People's Forum coming up in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 1-3 September 2023[15], during which human rights defenders and activists from all over Southeast Asia speak their truth to power to bring back democracy in the region.

  • ASEAN Summit which took place on 9-11 May 2023[16].

  • Laos' Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2024[17]

  • Are Lao authorities scared of the democratic change in Thailand?


The Fear of Democracy: A Neighboring Wind of Change

With Thailand’s general election of 14 May 2023, the Thai people have made their demands loud and clear: they want radical change by rapidly transitioning from a military dictatorship to a democracy! This significant shift in Thailand may have contributed to a neighboring authoritarian government like Laos to hastening the eradication of political democracy refugees, to prevent the same from happening in their country.


Lao Authorities’ documented Track Record of Transnational Repression (TNR)

Od Sayavong, Joseph Akaravong and Khoukham Keomanivong[18] are all Lao activists who had to seek refuge in Thailand after fleeing Laos due to their human rights activities. All of them were targeted by transnational repression (TNR). But who are they?


Od Sayavong is a co-founder of ‘Free Laos’ democracy group, who came to Thailand to work. He was last seen in Bangkok in August 2019 but his whereabouts remain unknown since[19]. In March 2019, Od met with Philip Altson, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, ahead of his official country visit to Laos[20]. In August 2019, Od was also planning protests around the ASEAN People’s Forum of September 2019 in Bangkok, Thailand. Lao authorities needed to silence him before.


Joseph Akaravong is a blogger using Facebook as a tool to denounce the Lao government’s misconducts. After exposing the Lao authorities’ mismanagement and corruption that contributed to the Attapeu dam collapse[21] in July 2018, Joseph had to flee Laos and hid in Thailand for four years[22], where he was heavily monitored and regularly intimidated by Lao and Thai authorities. He is now a political refugee in France, where he relocated in March 2022.


Khoukham Keomanivong, human rights activist and one of the co-founder of 'Free Laos' democracy group was arrested by the Thai police in January 2022 in Thailand[23] and faced deportation to Laos where he was wanted by the Lao government for his activism. He was thankfully bailed out and relocated to Canada in March 2022.


Repression Inside Laos of Lao Exiled Activists

Lao exiled activists end up jailed or disappear when they go back to Laos. Lodkham Thammavong, Somphone Phimmasone and Soukan Chaithad, three Lao activists, were sentenced up to 20 years in jail during a swift trial in 2017, punished for joining a protest in December 2015 before the Lao Embassy in Bangkok[25]. Phetphouthon Philachane, a ‘Free Laos’ member went missing[26] in November 2019 after he visited his family in Laos after feeling the country.


Focus on the exiled Lao activists who are jailed and/or disappeared

  • Lodkham, Soukan and Somphone are three Lao activists who joined a protest on 2 December 2015 in front of the Lao Embassy in Bangkok over the Lao government's human rights records. They were arrested on 4 March 2016 by the police when they went back to Laos to renew their passports. Following a swift trial on 22 March 2017, they were sentenced to respectively 12, 16 and 20 years in prison[27].

  • Phetphouthon Philachane, a Free Laos member, who was exiled in Thailand, went missing in November 2019 when he went back to visit friends in Vientiane[28], Laos. His relatives are convinced his disappearance is linked to his human rights activities.


Where is Sombath? And when will the Lao government #FreeMuay?

Lao democracy activists face life-threatening persecution from the Lao government[29]. The government tries to silence them for speaking their truth to power! In September 2019, Houayheuang Xayabouly, also known as Muay[30], was arbitrarily arrested and jailed for denouncing corruption in the hands of the government. She is now serving a five-year prison sentence. Before that, the Lao government made Sombath Somphone[31] disappear in December 2012. Until now, we do not know ‘Where is Sombath’? He is a leading and famous civil society figure, known for promoting community-based development[32].


The Lao government cannot continue its repression of Lao activists in Laos and Thailand with all impunity!


Manushya Foundation calls on the international community to support and protect Lao activists by closely keeping the Lao government in check! The Thai government, in particular, must not contribute to the transnational repression (TNR) of Lao activists in Thailand - but instead, it must stop it and uphold its international human rights obligations and commitments! We demand #JusticeForBounsuan and request Thai authorities to conduct an impartial and independent investigation into the killing of Kitiyano Bounsuan.


We also urge the Lao government to stop oppressing, abducting, and killing Lao activists! Instead, Lao authorities must provide a safe civic space in Laos for human rights defenders, activists, free-media and civil society, in line with its international human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)!


#WeAreManushyan ♾ Equal Human Beings


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References:

[1]. MGR Online, ยิง 3 นัด ดับหนุ่มใหญ่นักประท้วงต่อต้านประเทศลาว เผยผู้ตายเตรียมลี้ภัยไปประเทศที่สาม, (May 18 , 2023), available at:

[2]. Human Rights Watch, Thailand: Lao Refugee Gunned Down - Urgently Investigate Killing of Bounsuan Kitiyano, (May 24, 2023), available at:

[3]. Manushya Foundation, Third Universal Periodic Review Cycle - LAO PDR #UPR 2020, Overview of the Human Rights Situation in Lao PDR: Legal Framework, Challenges, Case Studies & Community-led UPR Recommendations, (January 2020), available at:

[4]. Freedom House, Freedom of the World 2023 - Laos, (2023), available at: https://freedomhouse.org/country/laos/freedom-world/2023

[5]. CIVICUS Monitor, ‘Closed’ civic space shows Laos not taking annual human rights dialogues seriously, (July 18, 2022), available at:

[6]. Manushya Foundation, #JusticeForJack ✊🏼 The Battle for Jack’s Life: A Journey Across Borders!, (May 12, 2023), available at:

[7]. Manushya Foundation, News Release: #JusticeForJack, (May 2, 2023), available at:

[8]. The Diplomat, Lao Government Critic Shot Dead in ‘Brazen’ Attack, Rights Group Says, (May 3, 2023), available at:

The Guardian, Laos activist Anousa Luangsuphom shot in cafe attack, (May 3, 2023), available at:

ABC News, Laos political activist Anousa Luangsuphom gunned down in Vientiane café, (May 3, 2023), available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-05-03/laos-activist-murder-cafe-anousa-jack-luangsuphom/102299804a

BBC, Laos activist Anousa Luangsuphom survived cafe shooting, rights group says, (May 4, 2023), available at:

Bangkok Post, “Shot Lao activist confirmed to be still alive, (May 4, 2023), available at: https://www.bangkokpost.com/world/2563415/shot-lao-activist-confirmed-to-be-still-alive

[9]. Radio Free Asia, Thailand-based rights activist arrested in Laos after returning to home village, (May 9, 2023) available at:

[10]. The Thaiger, Laotian refugee shot dead in Isaan province of Thailand, (May 19, 2023), available at:https://thethaiger.com/news/national/laotian-refugee-shot-dead-in-isaan-province-of-thailand ;

The Laotian Times, Lao National Gunned Down in Thailand Over Family Dispute, Say Police, (May 19, 2023), available at:

Khaosod, Thai police: a Lao activist’s relatives may murder him, (May 21, 2023), available at:

The Thairath, สลดหนุ่มใหญ่ นักเคลื่อนไหวชาวลาว ถูกยิงตายที่อุบลฯ คาดตามฆ่าล้างแค้น, (May 19, 2023), available at:

[11]. Manushya Foundation, #NewsUpdate 🚨Jack thanks you for all your support! #JusticeForJack, (May 8, 2023), available at:

[12]. The Laotian Times, Sonexay Siphandone Elected New Prime Minister of Laos, (December 30, 2023), available at:

[13]. ACSC/APF, available at: https://acscapf.org/wp/

[14]. ASEAN, 42nd ASEAN Summit and related meetings, available at: https://asean.org/42nd-asean-summit/

[15]. ACSC/APF, available at: https://acscapf.org/wp/

[16]. ASEAN, 42nd ASEAN Summit and related meetings, available at:

[17]. Information not yet available on the website on the ASEAN summit but available on media website such as:

[18]. OHCHR, Thailand/Lao PDR: UN experts concerned by disappearance of Lao human rights defender, (October 1, 2019), available at:

[19]. OHCHR, Opinion adopted by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Opinion No. AL Lao/4/2020 concerning the alleged cases of disappearances of four Thai activists and of Od Sayavong, (December 11, 2020), available at:

OHCHR, Thailand/Lao PDR: UN experts concerned by disappearance of Lao human rights defender, (October 1,2019), available at: https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2019/10/thailandlao-pdr-un-experts-conce rned-disappearance-lao-human-rights-defender

Radio Free Asia, Lao Democracy Activist Still Missing After a Year, as Thai Police Investigation ‘Stalls’, (August 25, 2020), available at: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/missing-08252020101554.html

[20]. Manushya Foundation, Submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on the situation in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), (March 2019), available at:

[21]. Manushya Foundation, #JustTransition Why We Must Continue to Demand Justice For the Survivors of the Attapeu Dam Collapse, (August 2, 2022), available at: https://www.manushyafoundation.org/post/justtransition-why-we-must-continue-to-demand-justice-for-the-survivors-of-the-attapeu-dam-collapse

[22]. Joseph Akaravong Facebook Page, Public post sharing the voices and concerns of affected communities of three villages in the face of the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy dam, (February 23, 2017), https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1850076008604657&id=100008068268130

See also: Manushya Foundation, Submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights on the situation in Lao PDR, for his official country visit from 18 to 28 March 2019, p. 10, (March 2019), available at: https://www.manushyafoundation.org/unsr- extreme-poverty-hr-laopdr

[23]. BenarNews, Lao activist held for deportation from Thailand, (January 31,2022), available at: https://www.benarnews.org/english/news/thai/laos-activist-held-deportation-from-thailand-01312022160913.html

[24]. Manushya Foundation, Laotian UNHCR-recognized asylum seeker Khoukham arrested by Thai police was finally bailed out!, (February 2, 2022), available at: https://www.manushyafoundation.org/post/laotian-unhcr-recognized-asylum-seeker-khoukham-arrested-by-thai-police-was-finally-bailed-out.

See also: The Diplomat, Thai government releases exiled Lao democracy activist on bail, (February 2, 2022), available at:

RFA, Lao rights activist held in Thailand for deportation released on bail, (February 1, 2022), available at: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/thailand-activist-02012022142636.html;

Bochen Han, “Case Study: Thailand,” in Yana Gorokhovskaia and Isabel Linzer, Defending Democracy in Exile: Policy Responses to Transnational Repression (Washington, DC: Freedom House, June 2022), http://freedomhouse.org/report/ transnational-repression/thailand

[25]. OHCHR, Opinions adopted by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at its seventy-ninth session, 21-25 August 2017, Opinion No. 61/2017 concerning Lodkham Thammavong, Somphone Phimmasone and Soukan Chaithad, (September 15, 2017), available at: https://undocs.org/Home/Mobile?FinalSymbol=A%2FHRC%2FWGAD%2F2017%2F61&Language=E&DeviceType=Desktop&LangRequested=False

[26]. RFA, Lao Migrant Goes Missing, Friends Suspect Government Abduction, (December 9, 2019), available at:

[27]. OHCHR, Opinions adopted by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at its seventy-ninth session, 21-25 August 2017, Opinion No. 61/2017 concerning Lodkham Thammavong, Somphone Phimmasone and Soukan Chaithad, (September 15, 2017), available at: https://undocs.org/Home/Mobile?FinalSymbol=A%2FHRC%2FWGAD%2F2017%2F61&Language=E&DeviceType=Desktop&LangRequested=False

[28]. RFA, Lao Migrant Goes Missing, Friends Suspect Government Abduction, (9 December 2019), available at: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/phetphouthon-philachane-12092019161409.html

[29]. CIVICUS Monitor, ‘Closed’ civic space shows Laos not taking annual human rights dialogues seriously, (July 18, 2022), available at:

[30]. Manushya Foundation, #FreeMuay campaign page, #FreeMuay from jail in Laos, Free Lao Woman Human Rights Defender Ms. Houayheuang Xayabouly (Muay) and stop the human rights violation against her, available at:

(Kindly see Manushya Foundation’s several UN complaints submitted to the United Nations in support of Muay calling for her release and resulting in the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s Opinion of May 2021, ruling that Muay’s arrest and detention are arbitrary).

[31]. Manushya Foundation, #WhereIsSombath: 10 long years since Sombath Somphone’s enforced disappearance, (December 14, 2022), available at:

[32]. Sombath’s website, Who is Sombath?, available at: https://www.sombath.org/en/who-is-sombath/sombaths-work/

See also: Manushya Foundation, Post, Laos: After 10 years, civil society worldwide is still asking: “Where is Sombath?”, (December 14, 2022), available at:


Want to know more about human rights in Laos? All you need to know about Manushya Foundation’s previous work on Laos ⤵️

  • News Update: #JusticeForJack ✊🏼 The Battle for Jack’s Life: A Journey Across Borders! May 12, 2023

  • News Release: Responsible governments and implicated companies must ensure safety and effective access to information of communities living near the Nam Theun 1 dam in Laos, August 23, 2022.

  • News Release: Lao Government and Implicated Companies Must Deliver Justice for Survivors of 2018 Attapeu Dam Collapse, July 26, 2022;

  • Follow-up UN Complaint to seek Justice for the Survivors of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Dam Collapse, in Attapeu Province, Laos, February 28, 2022;

  • Individual Complaint to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) concerning the case of Houayheuang (“Muay”) Xayabouly, December 15, 2020;

  • Joint Complaint to the United Nations on the Human Rights Violations faced by Ms. Houayheuang Xayabouly (Muay), Lao Woman Human Rights Defender, March 30, 2020;

  • #Freemuay from jail in Laos: Campaign to Free Lao woman human rights defender Ms. Houayheuang Xayabouly (Muay) and stop the human rights violations against her;

  • Manushya’s Foundation UPR Factsheet to inform Lao PDR’s Third UPR: Overview of the Human Rights Situation in Lao PDR - Legal Framework, Challenges, Case Studies & Community-led UPR Recommendations, January 2020;

  • Joint Statement: One year after Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy dam collapse, civil society from Korea and the Mekong call for immediate accountability and redress, July 23, 2019;

  • Joint Submission with the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) to the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for Lao PDR Third UPR Cycle, July 21, 2019;

  • Manushya Foundation's Submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights on the situation in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), March 2019;

  • Statement of the Thai Business & Human Rights Network on the Lao Dam Collapse, August 20, 2018;

  • News release: Laos must undertake transparent and independent investigation to ensure effective remedies for the victims of the dam collapse – and Thailand should also bear responsibility, August 20, 2018


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