Head of state: Choummaly Sayasone
Head of government: Thongsing Thammavong
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice
Population: 6.3 million
Life expectancy: 67.5 years
Under-5 mortality: 58.6 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 72.7 per cent
State control over the media and political, judicial and social affairs continued to restrict freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Lack of transparency and a scarcity of information made independent monitoring of the human rights situation difficult. At least three prisoners of conscience and two political prisoners remained imprisoned. Harassment of Christians was reported. The fate and welfare of Lao Hmong asylum-seekers and refugees forcibly returned from Thailand remained largely unknown. The death penalty was retained as a mandatory punishment for some drug offences; however, no official statistics on death sentences were made public.
The ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) held its five-yearly Congress in March. The President was re-elected as Secretary-General, and the Central Committee and Politburo were expanded. All except four businessmen elected to the National Assembly in April were LPRP members and central or local government officials. A new government was formed in June with four new ministries. In December, Laos reluctantly suspended work on the controversial Xayaburi hydropower dam following concerns of neighbouring countries and activists about its impact on fisheries and the livelihoods of people living downstream.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
Information remained scarce about the situation of some 4,500 Lao Hmong forcibly returned from Thailand in December 2009. Many of the approximately 3,500 returnees resettled to the remote village of Phonekham in Borikhamsay province were living under tight controls with no freedom of movement and little opportunity to make a living. Despite this, a small number managed to flee to Thailand and seek asylum.
According to credible sources, a former asylum-seeker died in custody in July after he was arrested by Lao police on suspicion of planting a bomb in Phonekham village. His body showed signs of mutilation. No investigation into his death was known to have been carried out.
Prisoners of conscience and political prisoners
Thongpaseuth Keuakoun, Bouavanh Chanhmanivong and Seng-Aloun Phengphanh, arrested in October 1999 for attempting to stage a peaceful protest, remained in prison beyond the expiry of their 10-year sentences. The authorities did not respond to requests for clarification and appeals for their release.
Ethnic Hmong Thao Moua and Pa Fue Khang continued to serve 12- and 15-year sentences respectively. They were arrested in 2003 for helping two foreign journalists gather information about Hmong groups hiding in the jungle, and were convicted after a grossly unfair trial.
Freedom of religion or belief
Reports continued to emerge of local authorities harassing Christian communities and targeting individuals who refused to recant their faith.
Two pastors arrested in January in Khammouan province were detained after holding a Christmas ceremony without official approval. They were still held in harsh conditions six months after their arrest.
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