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Human Rights Watch Demands Probe into Killing of Prominent Lao Activist in Thailand

A locator map of Laos and its capital Vientiane

Human Rights Watch is calling for an investigation into the death of a Lao political activist living in exile in Thailand.

The group said the body of Bounsuan Kitiyano was found on May 17 in a forest in northeastern Thailand near the border with Laos. An initial police investigation indicated that Kitiyano was shot while riding alone on his motorcycle.

The 56-year-old Bounsuan was a former member of the Free Laos group involved in several protests in front of the Lao embassy in Bangkok demanding respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. HRW says he was recognized as a refugee by the United Nations refugee agency.

“This cold-blooded killing of a prominent exiled Lao political activist demands an immediate response from the Thai authorities,” Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch said in a statement Wednesday.

HRW says Thailand has “consistently failed to prevent or adequately respond to attacks against political critics of repressive neighboring governments of Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar.”

HRW also said Bounsuan’s murder “sends a spine-chilling message that nowhere is safe for critics of the Lao government,” citing the August 2019 disappearance of human rights and democracy activist Od Sayavong in Thailand, and the shooting of Anousa Luangsuphom, an activist and online critic of the Lao government, in the capital, Vientiane, on April 29 of this year. Luangsuphom was initially reported to have been killed in the attack, but his family later told HRW they falsely reported his death to protect him while he recovers.