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

Vienna, 30 June 2003

Your Excellency,

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, strongly condemns the sentencing on 30 June of two European journalists, as well as an American pastor, to jail terms of 15 years each for illegal weapon possession and obstructing a state official.

On the basis of information provided to IPI, the Belgian freelance photographer and reporter Thierry Falise, his French colleague, photographer and cameraman Vincent Reynaud, and Karl Mua, an American pastor of Laotian origin who was acting as an interpreter, were detained by official authorities in Xieng Kuang province on 4 June, after returning from a trip in the central mountain region of Laos. According to our sources, they were found guilty of illegal possession of weapons and obstructing an official performing his duty and were sentenced to 15 years in prison by a court in Phonesavanh in the region of Xiangkhoang. It is not yet clear whether the defendants pleaded guilty or not guilty to the charges. Their lawyer has announced that he will appeal the sentences.

IPI does not believe that this trial and its outcome have served the cause of justice. The trial has fallen well short of international standards of jurisprudence. Since they have not been provided a fair trial, according to international law, IPI insists that the journalists and the translator be released immediately and unconditionally.

IPI regards jail sentences against journalists as gross violations of everyone’s right to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” as guaranteed by Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Johann P. Fritz