Lao political, environmental activist survives gun attack

Laos attack

A screenshot from the security video a few moments before an unknown assailant (person wearing cap) shot Anousa ‘Jack’ Luangsouphom (seated in the middle). Photo from the Facebook page of Joseph Akaravong, an exiled Laos activist.

An unknown assailant attacked 25-year-old activist Anousa “Jack” Luangsouphom with two gunshots on April 29 at the After School Chocolate & Bar shop in Vientiane, Laos.

Fearing for his safety, Jack’s family announced his death but clarified a few days later that he survived and is currently recuperating at a hospital. He has a severe injury to the tongue and a bullet is still stuck in his lung.

The attempted murder drew widespread concern in Laos because of the brazen attack, which was recorded by CCTV cameras. Global civil society groups have also condemned the attack and called on Lao authorities to conduct an independent probe.

Jack, a resident of Chanthabouly District, is a prominent online activist and critic of the government. Jack is one of the administrators of a closed Facebook group, “Laos Drama,” which was set up in April 2020 and has 7,000 members. Its hashtag #ຖ້າການເມືອງລາວດີ (if only Lao politics were good), is influenced by the rise of the #MilkTeaAlliance, an online network of activists campaigning for democracy in Asia.

Jack is also an administrator of the Kub Kluen Duay Keyboard (Power of the Keyboard) Facebook group, with more than 40,000 followers. The group’s Facebook tagline is “Fighting for Laos’ Survival so we don’t become China’s slave.” Some of China’s investment projects in Lao, such as mega dams and power plants, have become controversial because they devastated the environment and displaced rural communities.

Jack is also reportedly an administrator of the “Sor Tor Lor — the Republic,” a Facebook page with more than 6,800 followers that discusses political, environmental, and social issues in Lao.

According to Radio Free Asia, his own Facebook page has 10,000 followers. His recent comments tackled the accountability of authorities over the worsening pollution in the country.

Nat, Jack's friend and a fellow activist, told the Southeast Asia Globe news website that authorities are intent on silencing dissenters:

His activism frightened the government, so they wanted to kill him.

It all comes down to the government wanting absolute control over us. For decades, they controlled us with propaganda and fear tactics, but now they fear us questioning what they do.

Emilie Palamy Pradichit, executive director of Thailand-based Manushya Foundation, believes that the attack is upon the instigation of state forces:

We received strong indications that the attempted murder of Jack is extrajudicial, perpetrated in the hands of Lao authorities wanting to stop any pro-democracy youth movement to grow from inside the country. Voices of dissent cannot be stifled by the barrel of the gun.

The police initially issued a statement linking the attack to a business dispute or a quarrel over a lover. This claim was rejected by Human Rights Watch.

Human rights groups also reminded Lao authorities that they have the responsibility to ensure Jack’s safety while he is recovering in the hospital.

A member of the Milk Tea Alliance issued a statement expressing solidarity with Jack:

The #MilkTeaAlliance will not stand by silently while the human rights of the people of Laos are again trampled upon and those that speak out violently silenced. We have been encouraged to see so many allies from the region already speak out on the matter and join our voices with theirs in solidarity with our friends in Laos.

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