Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Relatives and supporters of three Americans jailed and tortured in Laos are appealing to the Obama administration to put high-level pressure on the communist government for their release.
However, one of the leaders of the campaign for their freedom suspects that President Obama might ignore their plea, as he seeks better relations with the Southeast Asian nation despite its brutal human rights record.
When they heard that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sent greetings on behalf of Mr. Obama on the Laotian new year earlier this month, “we were appalled,” said Philip Smith, director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis in Washington.
He added that the new year’s message, which also expressed hopes for expanded bilateral military relations, makes him worry that the White House is drifting toward “total appeasement of a military dictatorship.”
Mr. Smith joined a coalition of organizations representing Laotian-Americans and Laotian Hmong refugees in writing to Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton to seek “higher diplomatic” attention to the plight of the three naturalized U.S. citizens of Hmong descent.
The three Hmong-Americans have been “interrogated, beaten and tortured, according to eyewitness and multiple sources,” Mr. Smith said.
Congshineng Yang, 34, Hakit Yang, 24, and Trillion Yunhaison, 44, visited Laos with valid tourist visas in July 2007. Laotian soldiers and secret police arrested them the next month in northeastern Laos.
“They were arrested without charges and for unknown reasons,” Mr. Smith said.
The secret police later moved the three Americans to Lao’s notorious Phonthong Prison in the capital, Vientiane. Their families believe the three are now being held in a secret military prison in the northeast of the country.
Mr. Smith said the families initially appealed to Ravic Huso, the U.S. ambassador to Laos at the time, and urged him to raise a diplomatic protest to the foreign ministry.
“He did almost nothing,” Mr. Smith said.
Mr. Huso assigned the case to a consular officer, who confirmed the arrests, Mr. Smith said.
“We wants answers now …,” said Shen Xiong, a spokeswoman for the families and the wife of Hakit Yang. The three Hmong-Americans had relocated from Laos to Minnesota, where their families still live.
The State Department cited a privacy act that restricts what they can say about Americans imprisoned abroad.
“We are unable to confirm claims that U.S. citizens were ever or still are in the custody of the Lao government,” an official said.
The Laotian Embassy declined to respond to an e-mail request for comment.
The State Department’s latest human rights report calls Laos “an authoritarian one-party state” where prison conditions are “harsh and, at times, life threatening.”
The Hmong people have long been the target of repression by Laotian communists because they sided with royalist forces, organized by the CIA, in the Laotian civil war, which ended in 1975.
The same day that a top Chinese official praised U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman as a friend of China, the outgoing envoy denounced the communist government for imprisoning a prominent artist.
“It is very sad that the Chinese government has seen a need to silence one of its most innovative and illustrious citizens,” Mr. Huntsman wrote in an introduction to a Time magazine profile on Ai Weiwei.
The artist, also an outspoken government critic, was included among Time’s 100 most influential people last week.
On the day of the April 21 publication, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping expressed his regret that Mr. Huntsman will resign from his position later this month.
“You are an old friend of the Chinese people,” Mr. Xi said.
Mr. Huntsman, a former Republican government of Utah, is considering seeking the GOP nomination to challenge President Obama, who appointed him ambassador in 2009.
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