New York, July 10, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomes the release today of Belgian journalist Thierry Falise, French cameraman Vincent Reynaud, and their American translator and guide, Rev. Naw Karl Mua. Their release comes one week after the three were each sentenced to 15 years in prison for their alleged involvement in the murder of a village security guard.

“We are delighted that Laotian authorities have finally freed these journalists,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “But the fact that they were arrested and prosecuted on trumped-up murder charges is a stark reminder of the extreme measures the Laotian government will take to deter independent reporting. Press conditions in Laos are among the worst in the world.”

Laotian security forces arrested the group on June 4 in a remote corner of northern Laos, where the journalists were reporting on a little-known anti-government rebellion by members of the ethnic Hmong minority. The government has long denied the existence of the anti-communist rebel movement, which has been around for decades, and has suppressed information about the military’s efforts to crush the insurgency.

On June 30, the journalists were convicted and sentenced in proceedings that took little more than two hours, in a courtroom that was closed to the foreign press.

Falise, Reynaud, and Mua were freed after intensive diplomatic efforts by European and U.S. diplomats. According to The Associated Press news agency, two Hmong rebels arrested along with them remain in prison.