Laotian information and culture minister Phandouangchit Vongsa said during a visit to Paris his government would probably free journalists Thierry Falise and Vincent Reynaud by 14 July.
Protest in front of UNESCO and French senate: journalists could be freed on 14 July
A dozen Reporters Without Borders activists and members of the support committee for journalists Vincent Reynaud and Thierry Falise demonstrated today UNESCO headquarters in Paris and the French senate to protest against these bodies receiving the Laotian information and culture minister. One senator, Yves Dauge, agreed to talk to a representative of Reporters Without Borders and two members of the support committee before officially meeting the minister. He said he had already raised the issue with him. The minister said in an interview on the LCP parliamentary TV station that the journalists would probably be freed on 14 July.
Government says it will soon free imprisoned journalists
The Laotian foreign ministry confirmed today it would "quickly" free jailed Belgian reporter Thierry Falise, French cameraman Vincent Reynaud and their US-Laotian interpreter but gave no date. The ministry said they had accepted the conditions for their release - that they admit "obstructing authority" in the murder of a militiaman killed in a 4 June shooting, did not appeal again their 30 June 15-year jail sentence and paid compensation to the dead man’s family. Financial aspects were reportedly still being discussed with French, Belgian and US diplomats. Release of three Laotians jailed at the same time as the journalists was not under consideration.
Demonstration outside Laotian embassy in Brussels, ambassador says journalists could be pardoned by 13 July
About 100 people demonstrated outside the Laotian embassy in Brussels today to demand the release of journalists Thierry Falise of Belgium and Vincent Reynaud of France. The Falise family was accompanied by members of the Thierry Falise and Vincent Reynaud Support Committee and Reporters Without Borders activists. Falise’s mother, brother-in-law and sister, and a Reporters Without Borders representative were received by the Laotian ambassador to Belgium, Thongphachanh Sonnasinh, who said the two journalists and their American interpreter, Rev. Naw Karl Mua, should be pardoned and released by 13 July. He said the matter would be put to a vote at a meeting of the government’s ministers in the next few days.
French-language weekly censored in Vientiane
The government French-language weekly Le Rénovateur was withdrawn from sale in Laos today because it placed too much emphasis on the foreign view of the imprisonment of three westerners, the authorities said. From the few copies that were distributed before its withdrawal, it could be seen that the issue contained an interview with the detainees’ lawyer, a summary of western reactions to the sentences passed on 30 June, and a photo of the French and US ambassadors on the day of the trial. An amended version of the issue, which will to be back on sale tomorrow, is expected to include an opinion piece about the family of the militiaman killed in the incident witnessed by the three foreign detainees.
Demonstration outside European Parliament in Strasbourg
Some 60 people, including members of the Vincent Reynaud and Thierry Falise Support Committee, Laotian opposition exiles and Reporters Without Borders activists, demonstrated today outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg against the 15-year prison sentences passed on the two journalists. This afternoon, the parliament adopted a resolution calling for "the release of the European journalists and those who were with them". Among those leading the demonstration was Reynaud’s mother Annie-Jeanne Reynaud, who is from Strasbourg. She said the Laotian ambassador in France had told her that the release of the journalists could take place "perhaps before 14 July."
Detained journalists receive visit from French and Belgian ambassadors
Vincent Reynaud and Thierry Falise were able to receive visits from their respective ambassadors today for the first time since they were sentenced on 30 June. Bernard Pottier, the French ambassador to Vientiane, and Pierre Vaesen, the Belgian ambassador to Bangkok, were allowed to meet with the two detained journalists in the offices of the immigration agency. There was still some concern about the conditions in which they are being in Phontong prison in Vientiane, which is reserved for foreigners. The Belgian ambassador described the conditions as "reasonable" but below European standards.
Laotian diplomats said three westerners could be released in "a few days"
Two Laotian diplomats have suggested in the past 24 hours that detained journalists Thierry Falise and Vincent Reynaud, and the American pastor who was with them, Rev. Naw Karl Mua, could be set free soon. Yesterday the Laotian ambassador to Paris, Soutsakhone Pathammavon, told Radio France Inter that their release could take place in "a few days." Today, the Laotian embassy in Hanoi said they would all be freed "soon" without setting a date. For the time being, there has been no confirmation from Vientiane. A western diplomat in Vientiane urged everyone to be "very careful until this matter is resolved."
Laotian government wants diplomatic negotiations
The French and US ambassadors to Vientiane and the Belgian ambassador to Bangkok were received yesterday by the Laotian deputy foreign minister Phongsavath Boupha. For more than an hour, they discussed the issue of the three detained westerners and sought "ways to move things along." The deputy foreign minister asked them to submit a joint request for the release of the three detainees. Foreign minister Somavath Lengsavath said today he would take account of this request if it was sent quickly and if the French, Belgian and US governments guaranteed that their citizens "do not do more than that." The Laotian authorities have also called on the United States and Europe not to apply economic sanctions and have proposed diplomatic negotiations.
Protest outside Laotian embassy in Paris, ambassador receives Reynaud’s mother
Ten Reporters Without Borders activists and members of the Thierry Falise and Vincent Reynaud Support Committee protested outside the Laotian embassy in Paris today against the 15-year prison sentences passed on the two journalists yesterday. Ambassador Soutsakhone Pathammavong received Reynaud’s mother, Annie-Jeanne Reynaud, and told her that their sentences were meant to be an "example so that in future Laotians and foreigners respect the country’s laws and regulations." On leaving the embassy, Annie-Jeanne Reynaud said the matter should henceforth be viewed as diplomatic rather than judicial and she called for negotiations at a higher level. She is to travel to Laos next week to see her son.
International condemnation of the trial
Journalists Thierry Falise of Belgium and Vincent Reynaud of France, and their American interpreter, Rev. Naw Karl Mua, were transferred today to Phontong prison in Ventiane, which is reserved for foreigners. The French, Belgian and American embassies meanwhile announced they would "work together" to obtain their release as quickly as possibly be means of an appeal or presidential pardon. For the time being, the Laotian authorities were preventing foreign diplomats from visiting the three prisoners. The European Union voiced "concern" about the "severe sentences" while José Luis Diaz, the spokesman of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, voiced doubts about the "very short" trial, which had not appeared to be "in accordance with the rules of international law," he said.
Three of the four Laotian assistants get jail sentences of between 12 and 20 years
The names of three of the four Laotians who were arrested at the same time as Thierry Falise, Vincent Reynaud and Rev. Naw Karl Mua, and the sentences they received, were reported today. Thao Moua, a guide, was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Driver Pa Phue Khang was given 15 years. And Tha Char Yang, another guide, received a 20-year sentence. All three were also fined. The name of the fourth Laotian and the sentence he received, if any, are still unknown.
Two European journalists get 15-year sentences
Reporters Without Borders voiced shock and outrage at the 15-year prison sentences passed by a Laotian court today on Belgian reporter Thierry Falise and French cameraman Vincent Reynaud for "obstructing the exercise of authority."
The sentences were handed down by a court in Phonesavanh, in the northeastern province de Xien Khouang, at the end of a two-hour trial. An American pastor of Laotian origin who was the journalists’ interpreter, Rev. Naw Karl Mua, received the same sentence. It was not immediately known what sentences were passed on the four Laotians who were accompanying them.
"We are astounded by the severity of these sentences," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard. "This travesty of a trial, in which the fate of the two journalists was determined in advance, demonstrates the totalitarian nature of the Laotian regime," Ménard said.
Reporters Without Borders called on the United States to freeze negotiations under which Laos could have been granted trade preferences. The organisation also called on European countries and the European Union to take significant measures against Laos, and on the International Organisation of French-Speaking Countries to sanction Laos under the Bamako accords.
Falise, Reynaud, the American pastor and the four Laotians were arrested on 4 June in Xieng Khouang province as they were finishing a report on the Hmong mountain people, some of whom continue to support an insurrection against the communist government that dates back to the time of the Vietnam war. The American is a member of the Hmong minority. They were reportedly caught in an ambush between Hmong combatants and Laotian army troops. Falise is a regular contributor to the French news weekly L’Express.
For more information :
Web site : http://www.free-falise-and-reynaud.com
Press relations : Hugues Jardel : firstname.lastname@example.org
Contacts : In Paris - Vincent Brossel, Reporters Without Borders Phone : +33 1 4483-8484 E-mail : email@example.com
In Bangkok - Roland Neveu (journalist) Phone : +66 1 508-7911 E-mail : RN@asiahorizons.com
In Brussels (representing the Falise family) - Guy Deschuyteneer Phone : +32 49 824-5503 and +32 71 361-932 E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
In Strasbourg (representing the Reynaud family) - Annie-Jeanne Reynaud (Vincent’s mother) Phone : + 33 3 8832-4694
In Geneva - Bernard Genier, TSR journalist Phone : +41 79 570-1453 E-mail : email@example.com