A municipal court in the Lao capital Vientiane on Thursday handed long prison terms to six Lao nationals convicted of illegally bringing Thai men infected with COVID-19 across the border earlier this year, launching a new surge of infections across the country.
Two of those sentenced, Monemina Southida and Phavady Viphakone, were jailed for three years, seven months, and 15 days and five years, one month, and 15 days respectively. The pair were also hit with heavy fines, state media sources said.
The two women had brought two Thai men infected with COVID-19 into Laos, where they had visited various entertainment venues—including karaoke bars and massage parlors—for several days before the Lao New Year on April 15.
After the group infected employees at the venues they visited, the country’s infection rate began to rise, an official of the Lao Immigration Police Department told a press conference on May 4.
Also sentenced on July 15, accomplice and former police captain Phouxay Sisavanh, who was dismissed from his post in May for abetting the Thai men’s entry, was handed a prison term of three years, seven months, and 15 days and a large fine.
Boat operators Sonenaly and Sompasong were sentenced to one year, seven months, and 15 days in prison each and also given fines, while Phan Xayalath—another boat operator convicted of allowing foreign nationals to cross illegally into Laos—was given a sentence of one year and six months and fined a large amount.
'The right decision'
Many in Laos expressed satisfaction with the verdicts and sentences handed down to the six, calling their punishments a lesson not to thoughtlessly spread disease.
“From the point of view of rules and regulations meant to safeguard public safety, these sentences are completely appropriate. People have to follow the laws,” one resident of the Lao capital Vientiane said, speaking to RFA.
“The court made the right decision,” agreed a villager living in southern Laos’ Savannakhet province, adding that the long jail terms and heavy fines imposed on the six defendants were suitable given the nature of their offense.
Lao authorities have warned members of the public against following the defendants’ example and are urging witnesses to illegal border crossings or violations of COVID-19 prevention protocols to report illegal behavior to the police, sources said.
Early on Friday in Laos’ fellow Communist neighbor Vietnam, which is also fighting a serious outbreak, authorities recaptured a COVID-19 infected death-row inmate who escaped from Ho Chi Minh City’s Chi Hoa detention center on July 13.
Nguyen Kim An was sentenced to death in 2014 on a charge of murder and robbery, and authorities could not explain how An, who was held in solitary confinement, could have contracted the virus or escaped from prison.
Inmates angered by the spread of COVID-19 at the detention center in Vietnam’s largest city rioted on July 6 during a medical examination, drawing attention to the health-care situation in the country’s prisons, state media reported.
By that date, 44 Chi Hoa detention staff and 36 prisoners had tested positive for the virus, and one 26-year-old prisoner had died.
Reported by RFA’s Lao and Vietnamese Services. Translated by Sidney Khotpanya and Anna Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.