Prominent critic of Laos government shot dead in coffee shop
A prominent political activist who offered rare criticism of the Laos government has been shot dead in a coffee shop in the capital.
Anousa ‘Jack’ Luangsuphom, 25, was shot twice by a gunman on Saturday at around 10.39pm in an attack that was captured on CCTV cameras.
Human rights activists have decried the “cold-blooded” murder of Luangsuphom and criticised the Laos government for failing to launch an investigation days after the attack.
Security camera footage from outside the coffee shop in Vientiane’s Chanthabouly district showed a man dressed in a brown shirt and wearing a black cap opening the door using a white handkerchief and firing twice at Luangsuphom.
More disturbing footage from inside the café shows the moment when Luangsuphom is shot from point bank range in the face and chest and collapses to the floor. He died on the way to the hospital.
“The cold-blooded killing of a prominent young political activist in downtown Vientiane sends a spine-chilling message that no one in Laos who criticises the government is safe,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“The Lao government should urgently conduct a credible and impartial investigation into Anousa’s death and bring to justice all those responsible.”
Human Rights Watch said the young activist of “among the few people in Laos who regularly and openly expressed views that were critical of the Lao government”.
Luangsuphom used to run the Kub Kluen Duay Keyboard (Driven By Keyboard) Facebook page, a popular platform in and outside Laos for people to express dissenting views about the Lao government.
“Lao authorities have long failed to prevent or adequately respond to attacks against critics of the government, human rights defenders, and political activists,” Human Rights Watch said.
Laos is one of the most politically repressive countries in Asia and the Communist-ruled, single-party country is known to stifle dissenting voices or political opposition.
It is the latest attack on a political activist that has put a rare spotlight on the nation’s governance and human rights record.
Amnesty International called upon the Lao authorities to urgently launch an investigation in the “shocking” killing of the activist.
“Lao authorities must urgently launch a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the shocking killing of a young activist who dared to speak out about human rights issues in the country. No human rights defenders should be killed for their work,” said Joe Freeman, Amnesty International’s interim deputy regional director for communications.
Amnesty International spoke to one of Luangsuphom fellow activists, who said the killing has “created a chilling effect”, leaving people even more scared to express opposition on social issues.
“I am devastated about the death, and also deeply scared about what may happen to me,” one of his friends and fellow activists told Amnesty.
In 2012, Sombath Somphone, a prominent social activist, went missing after he was last seen at a police checkpoint in the capital.
More than 10 years after his disappearance his whereabout remains unknown. Human Rights Watch noted Mr Somphone’s “enforced disappearance” and said “even activists who have fled persecution in Laos to neighbouring countries have not been safe”.
Od Sayavong, a Lao activist living in Bangkok, Thailand, remains missing since August 2019.
The Laos government has denied any knowledge of both the disappearance cases.