Amnesty International calls for release of Laotian student protesters

Amnesty International

Bangkok, Thailand - The human rights group Amnesty International called Friday for the release of five pro-democracy activists arrested three years ago by Laos's communist government.

The London-based group issued its call just ahead of the Oct. 26 anniversary of the unprecedented public protest in the Laotian capital Vientiane by about 30 young people who raised pro-democracy banners.

The 1999 protest was quickly quashed by police, witnesses told Amnesty.

Laos' communist regime, which has ruled since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, tolerates no political dissent. It usually does not respond to criticism by human rights groups, and there was no comment forthcoming after the Amnesty statement either.

Amnesty said that it considered the five arrested members of the Lao Students Movement for Democracy "to be prisoners of conscience, detained solely because of nonviolent expression of their political beliefs."

"Anyone detained in Laos is at risk of torture and ill-treatment," Amnesty said.

Last year on the second anniversary of the protest, five European human rights activists, including a Belgian member of the European Parliament, staged a protest in Vientiane to highlight the arrested students' plight. The Europeans were jailed for two weeks and then deported.