Laos: Protest leader dies in jail over land grab dispute against Vietnamese company

Author: Sidney Khotpanya & Richard Finney, Radio Free Asia, Published on: 25 May 2019

"Lao Villager Dies After 8 Years in Jail Over Land Grab Protest", 20 May 2019

A Lao villager held in jail since 2011 as a leader of a land protest in the country’s Salavan province has died in custody, with officials citing natural causes but villagers fearing torture, sources in the country say.

Sy Phong, one of two men kept in jail after 23 other protesters had been released, had been held without trial and died in April....

...Sy Phong and another accused leader, Som Nuk, had protested outside district offices with a group of 25 residents of Salavan’s Dane Nhai village to call for the return of land given by the government to a Vietnamese company to grow eucalyptus trees, the source said.

...local official...said the two men had not been jailed because of a protest over land.

“Som Nuk and Sy Phong were arrested not because of a land dispute, but because they had joined with “overseas Lao” in a plot to overthrow the government,” the official said, also speaking on condition he not be named.

...a Dane Nhai villager said however that the men had protested only because they did not want their land taken away to be used as a concession.

...The seizure of land for development or agricultural use—often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents—has been a major cause of protest in Laos and other authoritarian Asian countries, including Cambodia and Myanmar.

...Several of those detained were beaten or subjected to electric shocks in the days following their arrest, with another later reported to have died in custody.

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