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Journalists, Pastor Jailed in Laos Could be Freed Soon - 2003-07-03


Two European journalists and an American pastor sentenced to 15 years in jail in Laos this week may be freed soon if their governments petition to have their sentences commuted, the Laotian foreign minister said Thursday.

Belgium ambassador Pierre Vaesen and French ambassador Bernard Pottier met with Belgian journalist Thierry Falise and French journalist Vincent Reynaud Thursday morning for the first time since the pair, along with their translator Naw Karl Mua, an American of Laos descent, were convicted.

The Lao foreign minister said later that the group would be freed if their governments petitioned to have their sentences commuted.

The trio was arrested in the remote northern region of Laos on June 4 while reporting on the ethnic Hmong. They were charged with possession of a gun and explosives, and obstructing police.

The charges stem from the murder of a village headman that occurred while the men were reporting on the Hmong.

The arrests and convictions stunned the international community. Western governments, including the United States, said the trial was not fair and demanded the release of the men.

Roland Neveu, a member of the Thierry Falise and Vincent Reynaud Support Committee lobbying for the release of the trio, says his sources in Laos have promised an early release, but he cautions that nothing is yet guaranteed.

"The Lao authorities have promised that there would be a very quick settlement and even a source in Vientiane [says] that it may just take a couple of days, and not weeks," he said. The Hmong have been fighting in Laos since the 1970s when the CIA directed them in a secret war against communism, which the United States abandoned in 1975 when the communist government took power. The communist Laos government does not recognize the rebellion and refers to the Hmong as "bandits."