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A Lao Court Orders Deportation of Five European Activists - 2001-11-09

A Lao court has ordered the deportation of five European activists arrested last month for staging a protest in the capital Vientiane. The five were sentenced to two years in prison, but the penalty was reduced so they could be expelled from the country.

The five European activists were arrested on October 26th in Vientiane during a protest calling for democracy and the release of Lao political prisoners.

A Lao court Friday ordered the group to be deported after the judge sentenced the five to two years in jail during a brief hearing. The sentence was reduced to a small fine and deportation.

The group, all members of the Italian-based Transnational Radical Party, include Olivier Dupius, a Belgian member of the European Parliament. The others are three Italians and a Russian.

In June, Mr. Dupius was expelled from Vietnam after protesting the detention of dissident monk, Thich Quang Do.

The swift deportation order came after communications from European Union officials. Romano Prodi, president of the EU's executive commission, wrote to Lao President Khamtai Siphandon, saying Lao authorities were slow to allow consular assistance to the group.

Mr. Prodi warned the situation risked casting a shadow over diplomatic relations. He urged the Lao president to release the group in what he called the spirit of good cooperation.

The European Union is a major aid donor to Laos, one of the region's poorest states, which relies heavily on foreign assistance. Vientiane-based diplomats say that in addition to the five Europeans, as many as several dozen Lao nationals were detained during the October protest.

The protest marked the second anniversary of a reported rally of Lao students in Vientiane. Human rights groups say at least five Lao nationals involved in the 1999 protest remain detained without trial.