Summary and Current Status
Latsami Khamphoui, a Laotian economist and former government vice minister—and his cellmate, Feng Sakchittaphong, also a former high-ranking government official—finished serving, in October 2004, harsh 14-year prison sentences for peacefully expressing their concern about the Lao government's economic policies. According to reliable reports, they were released from prison when their sentences expired in October, but were held under house arrest in a village near the remote prison until mid December. Following their release from prison, Mr. Latsami and Mr. Feng—both of whom suffered from serious ill-health—requested permission to travel to France to seek specialized medical treatment and to join members of their families who live there. We have received confirmation that, on December 16, both men were reunited with their families in France.
Mr. Latsami was arrested in October 1990 and, two years later, was tried without legal representation and convicted. His conditions of confinement throughout his imprisonment reportedly were extremely harsh.
Mr. Latsami is a 64-year-old Laotian economist, former vice minister of economics and planning, and former vice minister of agriculture, forestry, and irrigation. He and a colleague—economist and engineer Thongsouk Saysangkhi—were arrested in Vientiane on October 8, 1990, because they had written letters to several officials of the Lao People's Democratic Republic in which they raised concerns about the government's economic policies. (Mr. Thongsouk, whose case was undertaken by the CHR, was a former vice minister of science and technology and former vice minister of communications, transportation, and post.) Following their arrests, they were held for two years without charge or trial in solitary confinement without access to medical care. On November 4, 1992, they were tried without legal representation before a panel of judges and convicted of "preparations for a rebellion, propaganda against the Lao People's Democratic Republic, mass meetings with the intention of creating tensions, libel and slander, and creating disturbances in jail." They each received 14-year prison sentences. The "disturbances" reportedly relate solely to their repeated requests for legal counsel. According to Amnesty International, the only evidence used against them were letters that they had written to government officials calling for peaceful political change and expressing disagreement with the country's economic policies.
Mr. Latsami’s already poor health sharply deteriorated during his lengthy imprisonment. (His situation was particularly alarming to the CHR and others because his colleague and cellmate, Mr. Thongsouk, also suffered gross medical neglect, and, as a result, died in prison in mid-February 1998. It was feared that the government’s deliberate decision to deny Mr. Latsami any medical care whatsoever throughout his lengthy imprisonment could result in his death too.)
It is our understanding that, throughout his 14 years in prison, Mr. Latsami was held in a cold and drafty cell, was allowed to leave the cell only once every two weeks to bathe, and had no access to reading or writing materials. His diet reportedly was extremely meager, sometimes consisting of nothing but plain rice for months. It is our understanding that there were no medical facilities at Prison Camp 07, where he was incarcerated. Furthermore, reports also indicated that medicines that were sent directly to him by family and friends were never received by him. Mr. Latsami's family reportedly was permitted to visit him only rarely to deliver small amounts of food and medicine; the intervals between permitted visits were sometimes two years or more. When his family requested to visit him in 1999, they reportedly had to wait many months before receiving permission to do so. After making the long journey from Vientiane to Houaphan, they reportedly were made to wait for days before being allowed to visit Mr. Latsami. When the visit finally took place, his family was allowed to visit him for less than one hour.
According to a letter written in 1998 to Amnesty International by Mr. Latsami, Mr. Thongsouk, and fellow political prisoner and cellmate Feng Sakchittaphong, that was smuggled out of the prison, their extremely harsh conditions of confinement and lack of medical care were a deliberate and overt effort on the part of the Laotian authorities to punish them, in contravention of the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Despite urgent and repeated calls to Laotian government officials for medical treatment and hospitalization by the three men, as well as by the head of Prison Number 07, and interventions by a number of foreign governments, the United Nations, and human rights groups, it is our understanding that there was no significant improvement in Mr. Latsami's conditions of confinement throughout his imprisonment.
In June 2001, for the first time ever, UNESCO's Executive Board discussed a human rights case in a public session—that of Latsami Khamphoui. His case had been submitted to UNESCO by the CHR. According to a press release issued after the meeting:
The holding of a public session, instead of the usual closed meeting, was due to the lack of progress in UNESCO's discrete intercession with the government of Lao People's Democratic Republic on behalf of a political prisoner, Latsami Khamphoui, a former Deputy Prime Minister for Economics and Planning. Mr. Khamphoui is serving a 14-year prison sentence for having criticized his government. He has been in jail since 1990 and is reported to be seriously ill.
On May 29, 2002, and again on September 23, 2003, UNESCO's Executive Board discussed the case in an open session and publicly appealed for Mr. Latsami's immediate release from prison.
Over the years, Mr. Latsami’s case was the subject of several CHR action alerts to its correspondents. In response dozens of NAS, NAE, and IOM members sent letters to the Laotian authorities appealing for his release from prison.