October 27, 2000
His Excellency Khamtay Siphandone
President, Lao People's Democratic Republic
Office of the President
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply disturbed by your government's efforts to restrict the exchange of news and information over the Internet.
A notice published in the October 26 edition of the Vientiane Times, a government newspaper, warned people "not to use the Internet in the wrong way" and included a number of rules governing online content. The guidelines had been circulated a few days earlier by the Khao Sane Pathet Lao (KPL) news agency, which stated that those who disregard the rules "will be warned, educated, fined, expelled, or prosecuted according to the law," as reported by The Associated Press.
The new guidelines were issued by the government's National Internet Management Committee. They include a ban on using the Internet for "propagating misleading news stories to create ... doubts among the public, at home or abroad." The vague wording of the rules makes them particularly prone to abuse by officials seeking to suppress news that might embarrass the government, which already exerts tight control over print and broadcast media.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom around the world, CPJ respectfully reminds you that Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights grants all people the right to circulate information freely "through any media and regardless of frontiers."
CPJ urges Your Excellency to ensure that the Internet in Laos remains free of government monitoring and interference. Ordering the withdrawal of these pernicious Internet guidelines would be a critical first step toward improving the climate for free expression in the country.
Ann K. Cooper