His Excellency Gen. Khamtay Siphandone
President of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Office of the President

Fax: (+85621) 214 208

Vienna, 13 June 2003

Your Excellency,

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, leading journalists and media executives, is deeply concerned about the recent arrest and detention of the Belgian freelance photographer and reporter Thierry Falise and his French colleague, photographer and cameraman Vincent Reynaud.

On the basis of information provided to IPI, Falise and Reynaud were detained by official authorities in the northeastern province of Xieng Kuang, together with their Hmong guide, Naw Karl Mua, who is a pastor and citizen of the United States. The three men were arrested after returning from a trip to the central mountain region of Laos and have since been transferred to the capital city of Vientiane where their exact location is unknown.

According to IPI’s sources, it appears that the three men are accused of conspiring with rebels in the murder of a security guard in the village of Khai on 3 June. The two freelancers have also been charged with carrying out reporting duties without the proper authority after having entered the country on 22 May on tourist visas. At present, the freelancers are being refused access to outside visitors and, on 13 June, foreign diplomats were prevented from visiting with the men.

Regarding the case against the freelancers, IPI believes that the Laotian authorities must make the nature of these charges and the evidence against the men public. Laos has a troubling history of arbitrary arrests and, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the present case appears to be yet another example of this breach of individual human rights.

With the above in mind, IPI would remind Your Excellency that arbitrary arrests are a breach of Article 9 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Furthermore, under Article 19 of the aforementioned declaration, everyone has the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of borders” and this implicitly includes the right to report without fear of harassment or intimidation. Finally, IPI calls on the Laotian government to treat the prisoners fairly and to allow them access to legal representation and other visitors.

We thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Johann P. Fritz