Wife Searches for Laotian Rights Defender Husband
Many suspect he was forcibly disappeared because of his work empowering communities across Laos.
“I am the wife of Sombath Somphone. Nowadays I do some work, but mostly I spend most of my time working with different groups to try and find answers for my husband,” she introduced herself to Asia Calling journalist Rio Tuasikal.
As recorded on CCTV, Sombath Somphone was last seen in front of a police station in Vientiane before he was forced into a car and driven away.
“The search for my husband has not been really successful. Despite that his abduction was caught on CCTV, the police said they are still investigating and they had found nothing,” she explained.
This case has put a rare spotlight on politics in the closed nation – considered one of the most politically repressive nations in Asia.
But the Laotian government has been silent about Sombath’s whereabouts and no human rights organizations work in the country to help out.
“The official report is always been that Sombath could have been kidnapped or he had conflict with business interest. But my husband has no enemies, and has no business interest.”
Sombath Somphone worked with communities across Laos to reduce poverty and promote education for nearly 30 years. In 2005, he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award, known as Asia’s Nobel Prize.
He was also recently awarded with the Special Award for Human Rights in Gwangju, South Korea.
“His position has been very clear. Let us contribute ideas to the kind of society we want to build in Laos,” she recalled.
She added, “He did not attack, and openly criticize the government. Maybe what he says, what he does, does not please some political interest – that I don’t know.”
Shui Meng has been campaigning for his case in Laos and online. She also gets help from international groups.
“Because Sombath was so well-known, many groups reach out to voluntarily appeal to the Lao government to find where he is, to resolve the case, and to return him safely.”
Last January, Laos submitted its report on human rights to the United Nations - saying that Sombath’s case is still under investigation.
“I think the international community is not satisfied. Many of them told me they are not satisfied with the answers that Lao government has provided.”
Shui Meng is now in Indonesia to raise awareness about enforced disappearances and will travel to other countries afterwards. Asia has the highest number of missing person cases around the world.
And families, like Shui Meng, continue to wait information about their loved ones…
“We cannot accept the fact that our loved one can just disappear, taken away, and never find out what happened to them,” she said.
And then she spoke slowly, “It is natural to ask as human being, that we must seek answers for what happened to our loved ones. No matter how long.”
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