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Laos Death-row Inmates Won’t Face Execution Anytime Soon

Source: Radio Free Asia

More than 500 prison inmates have been sentenced to death in Laos – some more than a decade ago – but the country’s dysfunctional legal system and unclear prison procedures have left the inmates languishing for years, the country’s minister of public security said.

Many of the inmates were convicted on drug charges and have had their sentences reduced to life in prison, Lt. Gen. Vilay Lakhamfong, head of the Ministry of Public Security and deputy prime minister, told lawmakers at a National Assembly session on Thursday. 

Authorities have even released some inmates who had originally been sentenced to death, which hasn’t helped Laos make any headway on combating illicit drug production, trafficking, and related criminal activity, he said. 

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“Lao laws do not mandate where and how to execute them, by firing squad or by lethal injection,” Lakhamfong told lawmakers. 

International organizations oppose the two execution methods, he said, adding that about 90% of Laos’ death-row sentences are drug-related.

“They don’t want us to do that; therefore, we have to keep them in jail and give them life sentences,” Lakhamfong said. 

Laos has not officially abolished the death penalty, though the last known execution, done by shooting, occurred in 1989, according to the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. In the past, authorities never disclosed the number of prisoners put to death, the crimes they had committed, or the places of execution.

Now the government and legal bodies involved in drafting laws are updating death-sentence procedures and are expected to complete their work by year-end, Lakhamfong said.  

Largely poor landlocked Laos is part of the Golden Triangle, an area that converges with Myanmar and Thailand at the confluence of the Mekong and Ruak rivers and is a haven for crimes, including the drug trade, by organized criminal networks.

Though Lao authorities have committed to combating drug trafficking, it remains rife in the Golden Triangle. In February, authorities there seized 500 kilograms of crystal meth in one of the largest hauls of the narcotic in the notorious zone. 

Setting a bad example

Meanwhile, members of the general public have urged authorities to execute inmates on death row so that people have faith in the country’s legal system.

One Laotian told Radio Free Asia that if authorities continue to pardon prisoners with death sentences, they will likely return to drug trafficking or the drug trade once they are out of jail.

“They should execute them, not just say it but do it, in the middle of a field and let all the other [prisoners] see it,” he said.

Another Lao citizen said if the inmates are let out of prison, it will set a bad example for others involved in the drug trade because they won’t fear getting caught and sent to jail.

“Inmates with death sentences should be executed right away if a court verdict orders an execution, and the law should be decisive and trustworthy,” he said. “If they do not execute them, then those who are in drug businesses right now will not fear the law, and that will undermine the country’s judicial system.”

A Lao legal expert, who declined to be named so he could speak freely, said authorities should carry out death sentences based on legal mandates, rather than keeping inmates in jail for 10-20 years, reducing their sentences to life in prison, and later releasing them.

“It is not good for society if inmates often ask for a pardon from a death sentence to get life in prison, but after 10 to 20 years are released,” he said.