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THE DANES STORY
Friday, 26 July, 2002, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Eyewitness: Laos jail victim
Kerry and Kay Danes
Kerry and Kay Danes spent 11 months in jail
As Amnesty International reports the widespread torture of prisoners of Laos, former detainee Kay Danes recalls her horrific experiences there last year.

Kay Danes laughs mockingly when she is told that Laos' Foreign Ministry has disputed the claims of tortures in its jails.

It has scarred me for life

"So when are they going to allow the UN to view this grand treatment... I must have missed that five-star prison when I was there."

Mrs Danes and her husband Kerry, who live in Brisbane, spent 11 months in Phongthong detention centre in 2001 on charges of stealing sapphires.

She says that after witnessing the treatment of prisoners there, "no-one can leave that prison innocent".

Torture

Mrs Danes says that a Sri Lankan and a French man both died in detention after being denied medical treatment while she was there.

"I just got roughed up a bit and put in isolation... and received death threats.

Luang Prabang Monk Monks at Vat Xieng Thong Temple, Laos
Laos is becoming a popular tourist venue

"Kerry copped worse... he got the wooden blocks on his legs and was quite brutally intimidated.

"I can only guess what they do to their own people." Phongthong is specifically for foreign prisoners.

She said inmates had their genitals burnt 10 feet away from her and she recalled walking past one young African whose head had been stuck in a bucket of sewage.

"They were trying to drown him."

She says the treatment that she witnessed "scarred me for life".

Exposing abuses

Mrs Danes says that the international community needs to keep shining the spotlight on the human rights record of Laos, which is fast becoming a popular destination for backpackers


There is so much going on (in Laos) and yet the world is pouring millions of dollars in there

"Amnesty really needs to keep swinging at them, and the UN really needs to get in there."

As Phongthong is controlled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "you can bet the foreign ministry knows about the conditions".

The officials at the prison that were really feared, she says, were known as the "special investigative police" and were sent by the ministry of interior.

She says they bragged that they were trained in torture techniques by the Hanoi administration.

The Laotian Foreign Ministry has however dismissed the claims of widespread torture in Amnesty's report as "total nonsense and groundless".

An official said: "Laos respects human rights like other countries all over the world."

Accused of stealing

Kerry and Kay Danes were working for the security firm Securicor when they were arrested.

One of their clients was a sapphire concession site, and the Danes were accused of stealing gems worth more than $6m, a charge which Mrs Danes hotly denies.

"There is so much going on (in Laos) and yet the world is pouring millions of dollars in there."

Mrs Danes now campaigns for others foreign prisoners in Laos, a lot of whom, she says, "won't make it".

She says that it is vital for the international media to continue to highlight the abuses in Laos.

Although the Australian Government put continual pressure on the Laotian authorities while the Danes were in jail, "the Australian media is the reason why I'm sitting here today."

The government of Laos "don't want the media opening the window any further".



Story Archived from BBC Online
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