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Laos Activist Anousa Luangsuphom Shot in Cafe Attack

A prominent activist and critic of the government in Laos has been shot in an attack at a coffee shop in the capital, Vientiane.

Anousa “Jack” Luangsuphom, 25, who runs a Facebook page in which people share criticism of the government, was sitting in a cafe in Vientiane on 29 April when the attack happened.

Initial reports suggested that Anousa was killed in the shooting. However, Human Rights Watch said that it had spoken to his family and other sources on Wednesday night, who provided verbal confirmation and photographic evidence to show that Anousa survived. He is receiving medical treatment in a hospital in Vientiane, Human Rights Watch said.

CCTV footage shared on social media and by state media shows a man placing what appears to be a face mask over the cafe door handle, apparently to avoid leaving fingerprints. The manenters once briefly, then re-enters and fires twice at Anousa at close range.

Anousa, who was shot in the face and chest, according to reports, had been sitting on the floor.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called for an urgent independent investigation. Elaine Pearson, the Asia director at the group, said the attack “sends a spine-chilling message that no one in Laos who criticises the government is safe.”

Anousa is the administrator of the Kub Kluen Duay Keyboard (Driven By Keyboard) Facebook page, which has 43,000 followers, and is a rare platform for discussing criticisms of the government. Its background picture appears to feature a photograph taken in neighbouring Thailand, where protesters were held by police after writing on the wall surrounding the Temple of the Emerald Buddha calling for reform of the lese majesty law – with the words changed to Lao and reading: “Listen to the party, government and we will be happy.”

He also runs the Facebook page Sor Tor Lor – the Republic – according to Amnesty International, which the group said featured posts about “social, environmental, economic and political issues in Laos”, such as pollution and LGBTQ+ rights.

“Lao authorities must urgently launch a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation,” said Joe Freeman, Amnesty International’s interim deputy regional director for communications.

Independent civil society and media are severely restricted in Communist Laos, a one-party state in south-east Asia that offers little space for dissenting opinions.

UN experts and rights groups have previously expressed concern over the disappearances of prominent Lao activists. These include Sombath Somphone, a development worker, who was last seen in 2012 when he was bundled into a car at a police checkpoint in Vientiane. He has not been heard from since. Despite repeated calls by UN experts and others, there has been no accountability for his disappearance.

In 2019, Od Sayavong, a Lao pro-democracy activist, went missing while living in Bangkok, where he was seeking resettlement to a third country by the UN refugee agency.

The Laos government has denied any involvement in the disappearances.

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Laos Activist Anousa Luangsuphom Shot in Cafe Attack