Statement of Ms. Kay Danes
Former Political Prisoner 2000-01
Presented at the U.S. Congressional Forum on Laos
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C.
October 1, 2002


(Opening Address)

I would like to first sincerely thank all the attending Members of Congress, the United States Government, Members of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom for participating in this forum, here today.

Dr. Sin Vilay – Under Secretary for the General Assembly of Delegates of Laotians Abroad and the Royal Laos Foundation for personally inviting me. You are a man of great wisdom and vision and one who continually strives for the freedom of the People of Laos.

Mr. Phillip Smith – Executive Director for the Center for Public Policy Analysis Washington DC. Sir, I thank you for your kind words of welcome and I am filled with hope that you … are indeed … a warrior against tyranny.

To you, (general assembly) here today, for your compassion which is like the healing balm to my soul. My husband Kerry sends his warmest regards and sincerest apologies for not being able to attend this conference, however, he would like you to know that he has the greatest respect for the Lao people and what you are hoping to achieve – freedom for all the People of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.




I appreciate that some of you have addressed me as a human rights activist, but the truth of the matter is, I love the Lao people as you do, and I became very close to them in many ways, in the prison, and to those with whom I lived and worked with during the two years, prior to our arrest. My hope is to help them, as well as to raise awareness for the struggle of others oppressed, but I also need to put my life back in order.

I am here to present some personal experiences to those of you who have not recently experienced the difficulties, of those, who find themselves on the wrong side of the Communist Laos Government. I believe the Government of this Country – the United States of America, will be compelled by what they hear today and will continue to support your efforts and my hopes, that one day, democracy and freedom will come to Laos.

7 December 2000, the Laos Government signed in agreement to the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights. They have yet to ratify it: in this interim period between signature and ratification, the Government of Laos is bound under International Law not to do anything, which would defeat the object and purpose of that agreement.

23 December 2000, sixteen days after signing, my husband and I were illegally detained, arrested without charge and held for six months in a Laos jail, until finally, on 28 June 2001, two days before my son’s seventh birthday, we were taken to court where the judge proclaimed the Law of Laos would govern proceedings and not the International Law. They concluded by stating that the final decision of our case would be made at their discretion. Despite increased Australian Government support, and over whelming evidence that proved beyond doubt we were innocent, we were convicted in the absence of a crime, in the absence of evidence of guilt and sentenced to seven years incarceration.

We were hostages, as agreed by our Government, in a political power-play which saw diplomatic negotiations continue for a further five months before our release via Presidential Pardon, on 8 November, 2001.

We were held in primitive conditions, separated from each other, interrogated six times in a place filled with horror, like nothing anyone could imagine.

Phonthong Prison – ten minutes from the city centre of Vientiane. Originally built as a refugee camp in 1994, only to be used instead as a detention centre for foreigners and political prisoners. There are two separate blocks having ten concrete cells to a block. Five cells face north and back onto five cells facing south. Each cell is approximately 4m x 4m and generally there were a minimum of six persons to a cell, sometimes more. The ventilation was very poor and at times the temperatures were near 100 deg (F). So many times … we thought that we would die.

The Prison regulations were very strict and most commonly, prisoners were confined to their cell for one year, without ever going outside for recreation or exercise. One man I met, a Thai, had been locked in the room for four years. The pain in our bodies was constant, particularly in our knees from the cramped conditions. No amount of personal massage could lessen the pain or stop the paralysis from slowly setting in. The sickness and disease was always a concern and I feared for my life everyday. In this place of horror, I saw many things and everything broke my heart and almost my will to survive. Have you ever seen a man so skinny he is unrecognisable and is so frail that he needs another to help him walk? He is dying on his feet but still he tries to fight back the hand of death reaching out to him. I saw many like this. Young men who ought to have been playing soccer and not crippled like the old men. Bones broken, tortured daily, it was all done in front of us.

In Phonthong, there was no respect for human life and the prisoners ate whatever they could find, in order to stay alive. If they were lucky, which very few were, then they could have food delivered from the outside thru the police … and hopefully, they would get all or most of what was delivered. When I was there, the prison supplied two fixed meals per day. The base content was non-filtered water soup with pig fat swirling on top. If the prisoners were able to grow a cabbage or some other green vegetable then it would be added to the watery soup. It was not very appetizing and I doubt it was even hygienic since the vegetable gardens were watered with a diluted mix of raw sewage and water from the fish ponds.

The soup was served with substandard sticky rice, approximately 250 grams per cell, per day. It mattered not if the number of prisoners in each cell fluctuated, the menu and amounts never changed, except when the police made us eat the fish paste, instead of the water soup. This paste was made from the sick fish floating in the sewage fish ponds. We were given only two small tablespoons per room, per day. It was inhuman to treat us this way and even though some of us were lucky to have food from the outside, it was never enough to share between one hundred hungry people.

As you know, there is no rule of law in Laos due to the corrupt political situation at this time, however we can always hope for change. I speak today at great risk to my personal well being, but I feel compelled because of what they did to me, my husband, my children, to the People of Laos fighting in the jungles and those fighting for survival throughout Laos who are praying for democracy and a multi-party system elected freely, by the people. I also feel compelled to speak because of the suffering and torture in Laos detention centres and in particular, the foreigners jail where my husband and I were held for almost one year.

I beg you most respectfully on behalf of the political prisoners there, to hear our collective cry for your help. I have been asked by them to be their voice here today, so that you may understand a little of the nightmare that is ongoing, as we speak.

"When we are beaten in the darkroom, left to die … we think the world will never know our suffering but now we have a voice … you! We have hope. When the screams are torn from our lips because we cannot keep inside the agony we must endure … we have hope, that we may live another day to see freedom. When our body lays broken and bleeding on a cold, dirty concrete floor … we pray that you will somehow know that we are cold, afraid and dying. When our spirit has left this hell … we have hope … that in a short time passing … you may find someone who knew our name and our fate … so that we might be remembered."

This is the message that we who have and who remain in prison, in the death camps and the gulags of Laos … send to you.

The Lao Government is responsible for what they do to those today, and to you … who have suffered greatly in the Gulags. The Governments of the World, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations must share in that responsibility too. If these institutions continue to financially support this regime, then many Laotians and foreigners will continue to suffer horrendously, until they are cash starved or worse … dead.

It is my opinion that the extreme nature of the allegations, eye witness accounts, credible reports and your statements here today, show a consistent pattern, and that steps must be taken immediately to protect those incarcerated, whether it be inside jail or outside jail, in Laos … it is the same. An independent inspection must be a priority to prevent further violations of human rights. This must be followed up by regular monitoring.

I am told this US Congress is a place of great power and those I left behind to make this journey on their behalf, are counting on me to open their suffering and their hope, to you. The door way ‘the black door of Phonthong Prison’ and indeed the door way to Laos is locked still, but I believe, we have the key here in our hands. People of Laos, they suffer, they cannot speak, they cannot cry, they can only pray that one day they will not have to live in fear. Nor will their loved ones be taken from them by the secret police, as we too were taken from our children, nor will they be condemned to death by slow starvation or torture simply for wanting a better life, more education and food in their stomachs.

Finally, I ask you for your compassion that you may remember those still trapped in the gulags of Laos. You are their only hope! For me, a final word, that I stand before you broken in heart and almost in spirit … and carry the scars forever of that terrible place. My children will never fully recover from the nightmare they have endured, and I will hope that someday justice will be done, and that the Laos Government will be stopped. That they will be held accountable for crimes against humanity, that we all, here today, bear witness to.

Kob Jai Der. (Thank You)

Kay Danes


Former Political Prisoner (Laos) 2000-01

1 October, 2002

Posted October 09, 2002.  No editing. takes no responsibility for its contents.

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