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Outrage Erupts After Video Shows Lao Women Used as Human Targets in Ring-Toss Game

Source: Radio Free Asia

A short video on social media of Lao female hotel employees serving as human pegs in a ring-toss game for Chinese patrons at a Chinese-owned hotel in Vientiane has gone viral on Facebook, prompting thousands of angry comments saying the women were treated as animals or toys.

The video obtained by Radio Free Asia shows a dozen young Lao women in short uniforms standing still on steps outside the building as a group of Chinese men take turns tossing hoops at them, hoping to ring their bodies for the prizes they held — cans and bottles of beer, wine or spirits. 

The video was posted Feb. 15 on the Facebook page of Joseph Akaravong, whose online profile says he is from Luang Prabang, Laos, but lives in Paris. In comments above one of the short videos he asks about why Lao officials let the hotel use the woman as part of a game. 

“What does the Lao Women’s Union say about this kind of action?” he wrote, referring to a national women’s rights organization. “Isn’t it illegal? It’s not like stealing values. Are these people human?”

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The post garnered more than 4,000 comments and 3,300 shares as of Wednesday, with most people saying it was inappropriate behavior that degraded the women’s dignity. 

“We only see this activity at festivals where vendors use ducks as prizes, not to use humans to hold prizes,” one Lao citizen who didn’t want to be named for fear of retribution told Radio Free Asia. “The majority of Laotians see this activity as a means of reducing the dignity of Lao women and girls. It is very heartless.”

He said relevant officials must stop similar events of “inhuman activity” from occurring in the future.

An official at the Lao Women’s Union declined to comment on the incident.

Chinese influx

Many Laotians resent the Chinese who have poured into the landlocked country in recent decades to set up businesses, build large-scale infrastructure projects and even engage in illegal activities such as human and wildlife trafficking and online scams. 

Chinese businessmen and tourists, who travel visa-free across the border to gamble in Laos — an illegal activity on the mainland — usually show little or no regard for customs and mores in the conservative, Buddhist nation, people say.

In a 70-second video, a bald Chinese man in a black T-shirt smokes a cigarette while he tosses one of the rings, but it lands to the far left of the two rows of hotel employees, as he laughs at his poor skill. 

“Just narrowly missed it,” he says. “Narrowly.”

Another man steps forward, saying, “Let me try it.” He tosses a ring, hitting one of the women in the side of neck. “Failed,” he says.

Four more men toss rings, either missing or hitting the women in the head or shoulders until a seventh man rings the shoulder of a woman in the second row. One of them asks someone to send him the video of the game.

Though Akaravong posted the one video on his Facebook page, he had other short clips of the ring-toss game from hotel employees that he sent to RFA. He said the hotel’s management asked the employees to record cellphone videos of the Chinese men playing the game, but they did not feel comfortable posting them on their own social media accounts, so they sent them to Akaravong.  

An ‘unacceptable’ activity

A resident of Vientiane called the behavior of the Chinese visitors unacceptable and said it was not good for the relatives of the hotel employees to see their daughters and wives treated in such a manner.

“[This] is our country, where we respect women,” he said.  

Another Laotian from the south said the Chinese men were likely recording videos to post on their social media accounts.

“I have never seen anything like this before, but I know that the Lao government at any level does not have rules to prohibit this kind of activity,” he said. “But we have to know what [we can] do to preserve Lao culture and to ensure the dignity of Lao women.”  

The Vientiane Mekong Hotel, where the incident took place, is located in Phonthan village in Vietiane’s Xaysetha district.

A hotel manager contacted by RFA on Feb. 16 said that the management was aware of the video and that such games would be banned. She said the Chinese men played the ring-toss game as an activity to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

“[W]e are aware that Lao society is not comfortable with this, as well as our employees,” the woman said. “The management is in discussion over this activity and will discontinue it.” 

The following day, the hotel management issued a notice to Lao tourism police that it had discontinued such games.

“The management is concerned after the video of the incident went viral on social media among Lao society,” said the notice posted on Akaravong’s Facebook page. “The hotel will stop this activity and will make sure there will be no more this kind of activity within the hotel in the future.”

A Lao official in Vientiane told RFA that Chinese men have been involved in similar incidents that degrade the dignity of Lao women in other provinces. Relevant offices do not strictly enforce laws, so Chinese nationals who come to Laos to visit or to work know they can get away with inappropriate behavior, he said.