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Laos: Arrest and detention of human rights defender and land rights activist Mr Souvanh
On 18 June 2012, Mr Souvanh from Yeup village, Thateng District, Sekong Province was arrested by the military for urging the authorities to seek a solution to a land dispute in his community.
It is reported that he has been detained since his arrest at a provincial military jail, and that he has been given one meal per day and has not been allowed to meet his relatives and lawyer. A local contact fears that Souvanh could be badly treated in jail. Souvanh is a farmer who has been active in advocating for land rights in his community.
The arrest of Souvanh came after a series of arrests of human rights defenders and land rights activists by Lao authorities. Seven human rights defenders from Ban Yeup village in Sekong Province were reportedly arrested by Provincial Security Police on 13 and 14 June 2012. They were detained at Thateng district police station and were released on 26 June 2012. These villagers have been opposing the land concession given to Cong Ty Cao Su Nghi Lao-Viet (LVF) company. The company was granted a 50 year land concession in 2006 to plant rubber in Thateng and Daksing districts. At least four villagers have been affected by this concession.
Before their arrest, in the absence of progress on a solution, Souvanh and the seven human rights defenders had met with local authorities to demand better compensation for the villagers affected by the concession. They had also submitted a petition to the National Assembly, the Lao Front for National Reconstruction, and the Prime Minister's Office which responded by assigning provincial authorities to look into the dispute, although to this date, no action has been taken.
Front Line Defenders believes that the arrest and detention of Souvanh is directly related to his work in the defence of human rights, in particular his work in defending land rights. Front Line Defenders is seriously concerned for his physical and psychological integrity while in detention.