Statement of Ms. Kay
Former Political Prisoner 2000-01
Presented at the U.S. Congressional Forum on Laos
U.S. House of Representatives
October 1, 2002
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
a warrior against
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 Peoples 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 sons 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
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
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
think the world will never know our suffering but now we have a voice
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
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
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
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
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)
Former Political Prisoner (Laos) 2000-01
1 October, 2002
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