Two people have been arrested outside the Laotian capital for “defaming the police” after recording an argument over “stolen land” and posting it to Facebook.
The incident regarded land that had been appropriated by the state to build a a medical college, a food and drug center, and a 400-bed hospital in Xiengda village in Vientiane’s Saysettha district, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.
The villagers, a man identified as Poy and a woman named Keo, were arrested after posting their confrontation with police to Facebook on March 16.
“We are demanding fair compensation for the loss of our land, because we have not yet reached an agreement on price,” Poy said in the video.
“You are abusing your state-backed power to steal my land. I disagree with handing it over to you,” he said.
One villager told RFA’s Lao Service the pair “should not be arrested for merely posting the video on Facebook.”
“People can use their smartphones to record what happens to them so that they have evidence if something terrible occurs. Also taking photos and videos there isn’t against any laws,” the villager said.
Another resident said they villagers had been cooperating with authorities and had not physically the resisted land-clearing operation.
“We were just requesting fair compensation. They had proposed that the project compensate us at a cost of 1,500 Thai baht per square meter [$4.26 per square foot], and to provide each family with a new 500 square meter [5382 square feet] plot of land,” the second villager told RFA.
A village official told RFA the couple had not been detained, but rather sent to the district police station for “reeducation.”
“They were taken to the police station for defaming the police and officials on duty and posting it on Facebook, which is just not right,” the official added.
He further claimed the land was state land that had once been a part of a national forest reserve.
Another official working on the medical college project, Linthong, accused the villagers of being opportunistic.
“They settle the land in a forest preserve to eke out a small living, but when the land suddenly becomes more valuable, they try to take it over,” Linthong told RFA.
Villagers dispute the area was ever part of a forest preserve, but rather a failed collective farm for which those working the land had never been given land titles.
Laotian authorities have long faced criticism over land seizures for development projects while not paying the dispossessed fair compensation.
Following the September 2019 arrest of Thitphay Thammavong, a 69-year-old who refused to sign over his land, Human Rights Watch (HRW)’s deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson lashed out at Laotian authorities.
“Wherever land grabbing takes place in Laos, villagers owning land who resist face being jailed, showing yet again how the Lao government abuses the human rights of villagers on lands the government requires,” said Robertson.
“Frankly the government never pays much attention to human rights.”