European Union urges for more action on human rights issues
The European Union has expressed concern about the limitation of freedom of expression, particularly in the media.
Human rights and governance issues were at the centre of a series of meetings in Brussels between the European Union and Laos. The two sides also discussed issues such as freedom of expression, assembly and association and the death penalty.
The disappearance of influential civil rights activists, particularly Sombath Somphone, who died last December, and discrimination against Christians, such as the detention of eleven of them occurred this month for having gathered in an unauthorized location, have made the talks difficult and it was not possible to agree on a joint statement, said an official of the European Union.
In its final statement, the European Union has expressed concern about the limitation of freedom of expression, particularly in the media. On the other hand, Brussels welcomed the commitment of Laos to improve the transparency of the registration of civil society organizations, however was concerned for the time that the registration process requires.
Other topics discussed during the talks were gender equality, trafficking in human beings, conditions in prisons and rehabilitation centres for drug addicts, labour standards and agricultural policies.
"Christianity is still seen by some in Laos as a 'foreign' religion and those who convert to Christianity can be threatened with arrest, forced to recant, to leave their village or, at best, forced not to participate in any religious celebration, as happened some time ago to a group of Protestant Christians, in the province of Savannakhet, first imprisoned and then released after signing a document in which they agreed not to show their faith with the celebrations," said Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Thomas also noted that recently there have been improvements, including a reduction in the number of Christian prisoners of conscience. This could indicate that the government wants to revise its Vientiane laws on religious freedom.
After the recent progress on civil rights in Myanmar the U.S. think-tank Freedom House has ranked Laos as less free country in Southeast Asia, second only to North Korea in terms of restrictions on civil and political rights.
The practice and the same discussion of religions other than Buddhism, practiced by the majority of the population, are severely limited in Laos. Young Christians in Vientiane, the capital, organize meetings in homes or religious exchange information and have begun to utilize social media even if they remain under state control.