in Laos have detained a woman who posted information on social media
about a controversial land concession granted by the local government in
Luang Prabang province to Chinese investors, prompting a storm of
criticism over the agreement from the country’s netizens.
a provincial Natural Resources and Environment Department staffer, was
detained June 25 for posting a “confidential document” on her Facebook
account about the deal to develop the area around the Khouangxi
waterfalls, a popular tourist attraction, a local source said.
mid-June posting had sparked widespread public criticism among locals
who say the provincial government routinely gives away public property
to domestic and foreign investors in the form of concessions which bring
the population little benefit.
the information about the deal spread on social media, the governor
organized an urgent meeting with the directors of all provincial
government offices to inform them of what happened and investigate who
posted it on social media,” the source told RFA’s Lao Service, speaking
on condition of anonymity.
According to the source, authorities identified Chanthaphone after determining that the document had originated from her office.
this point, only government employees know what is happening with her
and everything is confidential,” he said, adding that Chanthaphone’s
parents work in the same office as her and are responsible for
preventing staff members from posting comments or opinions on social
source said that provincial officials have been warned by their
superiors that anyone found to post comments on the Khouangxi waterfalls
land concession or Chanthaphone’s detention will be subject to
government employees are scared and have been trying to delete their
comments and posts from their Facebook accounts and other social media
sites,” he said.
A provincial official, who also declined to be named, confirmed Chanthaphone’s detention to RFA.
was detained as part of an investigation, but the investigation has yet
to be concluded,” the official said, adding that he believed “she will
not be found guilty and will be let off.”
officials from the provincial government’s Information and Culture and
Tourism departments told RFA they were unaware of her case and had
received no information about a document leak.
Saysompheng, governor of Luang Prabang province, approved China’s A-Cho
Group Company for a land concession to develop the area surrounding the
Khouangxi waterfalls, one of the country’s most famous natural
governor, who is also the son-in-law of former President Khamtay
Siphandone and husband of Viengthong Siphandone, president of the State
Audit Organization, issued the decision in April, although it was not
made public at the time.
deal came to light, however, when Chanthaphone published a copy of a
document related to Khampheng’s decision on Facebook, leading to a storm
of public criticism over the deal.
to the document, the governor has assigned personnel from Luang
Prabang’s planning and investment, information culture and tourism,
natural resources and environmental services along with district
authorities and employees from other relevant sectors to work with A-Cho
Group to conduct a survey and environmental impact assessment of the
planned investment and development of the area.
the meantime, the provincial government is preparing a memorandum of
understanding (MOU) to be signed with the Chinese company to approve
each kind of investment for the concession.
the survey and assessment are completed, the results will be submitted
to Khampheng who will then grant the Chinese the concession, the
Prabang, an ancient capital more than 1,000 years old, was named a
UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995 and is the most popular Lao city for
both domestic and international tourists. Since then, foreign investors
have pumped money into local real estate projects after getting land
concessions from the government.
locals who oppose public property being granted to foreign and domestic
companies refuse to speak out publicly because they fear retribution in
the form of threats.
years ago, three people who had their land taken away from them by the
government to make way for a golf course project financed by South
Korean investors were detained in prison for more than two years. One of
those detained was an official from the Ministry of Justice.
has previously granted land concessions for public property to
companies. He gave the Lao firm Sisak Construction Company concessions
to the provincial club building locally known as Hongsaek, Lane Xang
public park at the edge of the Provincial Airport, and the Phamsay
River, which is used for boat racing.
told RFA last month that the governor also gave the Lao firm Tieng
Douangpaserth Construction Company a land concession for a restaurant in
That Luang yard, a provincial venue used for traditional processions
and key events.
is the second person since May known to be detained by police in Laos
on charges related to information they posted on Facebook.
Mitane, a 26-year-old resident of Nabouam village in Xayaburi
province’s Phieng district, was taken into custody without an arrest
warrant by local police officers on May 21, a week after she posted
photos on Facebook allegedly showing police officers extorting money
from her brother over a traffic violation. Phout remains in detention.
of social media in Laos has surged in recent years, with an increasing
number of people looking to the internet to find news and information
they do not have access to in state-run media.
September last year, Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong signed
Decree No. 327 into law, prohibiting online criticism of the government
and the ruling communist party, and setting out stiff penalties for
netizens and Internet service providers who violate controls.
the decree, which took effect on Oct. 1, netizens face criminal charges
for publishing “untrue information” about policies of the ruling Lao
People's Revolutionary Party or the Lao government for the purpose of
“undermining … the country.”
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.