Laos: New report reveals hidden torture and ill-treatment

Amnesty International's report, 'Laos: Torture, Ill-Treatment and Hidden Suffering in Detention', details how basic human rights safeguards are almost wholly absent. Arbitrary detention and torture are commonplace and individuals, says the report, 'are at the mercy of a system which lacks transparency, clarity or reason.'

Amnesty International said:

'While Lao law does list a number of rights for the accused, those in charge decide to whom it applies and when. Individuals without money, influence, perseverance, or in some cases just luck, can spend more than a decade in detention without trial. Even when the court orders a release, prisoners are often not free to go until they have paid 'prison fees' for 'expenses' during their detention.'

In many cases reported to Amnesty International, there have been no court proceedings at all. Access to lawyers depends on whether the detainee has enough money.

Torture is thought to be widespread and routine in Lao prisons. Common methods of torture reported to Amnesty International include: punching and kicking with hands and feet, beating with sticks or truncheons, and long term shackling in wooden stocks. The organisation has also received reports of death threats and mock executions, solitary confinement, suffocation, near-drowning, use of electric shocks, burning with cigarettes and use of extremes of temperature to inflict pain.

Lao nationals under arrest are especially vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment, though anyone arrested and detained in Laos is at risk of serious human rights violations. Instances known to Amnesty International include:

- A foreign national arrested in 2000 who reported that immediately after arrest police did not attempt to question him but repeatedly beat him for an hour about the head, chest and body while he was handcuffed.

- A person detained in Phonthong prison who told Amnesty International that 'There is no healthcare - only aspirins, so you get aspirin for a headache, and aspirin for malaria, and aspirin for anything.'

- A foreign national detained without charge or trial in Laos who wrote in a letter 'I have been a prisoner for 17 years and seven months and have never been sentenced or tried. I have been illegally imprisoned by people without morals who have destroyed my spirit.'

- French citizen Francis Prasak who collapsed with chest pains in prison at 3.30 pm on 5 January 2001 and begged to be taken to hospital. Prison guards reportedly ignored Mr Prasak's repeated pleas for help. His condition worsened and he died several hours later.

Amnesty International is calling on the international community to apply pressure on the Laos authorities to ensure that Lao law and international standards are adhered to, and access granted to independent human rights monitors.

A copy of the full report is available online. Read the report

A summary of human rights concerns in Laos during 2001 is also available online

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