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Friday, Feb 23, 2024

Laos activist Anousa Luangsuphom survived cafe shooting, rights group says

Laos activist Anousa Luangsuphom survived cafe shooting, rights group says

A Laos political activist who was reported to have died after being shot point blank in the face and chest is alive, activists say.
The family of Anousa Luangsuphom, 25, has told Human Rights Watch (HRW) he is recovering in hospital after being shot in a cafe in the capital Vientiane.

They had initially told people he had died in a bid to protect him from being targeted again, the rights group said.

This reflects the level of fear for dissidents in Laos, the group added.

"Friends and family basically told people he was dead because they were worried if the gunman knew that they had not succeeded in killing him, they would return to finish the job," said HRW spokesman Phil Robertson.

Mr Luangsuphom is a prominent critic of the Laos government. Security camera footage of his attack on Saturday night has been widely shared on social media and reported in local media.

It shows a gunman dressed in a brown long-sleeved shirt and black cap using a facemask to open the cafe door, before entering and firing twice at Luangsuphom, who is seated on the floor.

The video then shows the gunman fleeing while bystanders rush to Luangsuphom's aid.

The activist is known for running the Kub Kluen Duay Keyboard (Driven By Keyboard) Facebook page, where people have expressed criticism of the Communist authorities.

On Wednesday night, the page's administrators shared a message from another Laos political commentator, based in Europe, who has a large online following among people in Laos and abroad.

The family had requested that the Facebook influencer release the information that Luangsuphom was alive, Mr Robertson said.

They had chosen to do this after the incorrect news of Mr Luangsuphom's death was reported by global outlets, including the BBC, prompting Laos police to track him down in a Vientiane hospital.

Photos published by the Facebook page appear to show him unconscious in a hospital bed with wounds and bruising on his face. The BBC has sought comment from the page's administrator.

There has been criticism of Laos authorities' slow response to the shooting. Before Wednesday, authorities had not announced an investigation into it.

Police are still yet to show they are properly investigating the attack, Mr Robertson said.

He said the family's "protective" actions showed "there is clearly no confidence in the Laos government whatsoever that it is there to protect the citizens of the country".

It follows similar criticism over cases of other activists who have vanished or been targeted,

HRW had earlier noted the "enforced disappearance" of activist Sombath Somphone, whose whereabouts remain unknown more than 10 years after he was taken into police custody in Vientiane.

It also cited the case of Od Sayavong, a Lao activist living in Bangkok, who has been missing since August 2019.

Government officials had denied any knowledge of both disappearances.

There is little room for political opposition or dissenting voices in Communist-ruled Laos, one of Asia's poorest countries.

The landlocked country between Thailand and China is a one-party state, ruled by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, where "authorities use legal restrictions and intimidation tactics against state critics", says the US political advocacy group Freedom House.

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