The communist state of Laos has categorically banned any online criticism of the government in a new set of laws that criminalizes speaking ill of the government on the Internet and any outlet that facilitates the publication of such online criticism.
Reuters reports that the legislation, approved last week by Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, punishes “false” information spread online by any individual. “False” is defined as anything that reflects unfavorably on the government. According to state outlet KPL, the law bans “disseminating or circulating untrue information for negative purposes against the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party and the Lao government, undermining peace, independence, sovereignty, unity and prosperity of the country.” It also holds Internet service providers and websites accountable for having a hand in publishing any illegal opinions.
To better track who is posting what online, the law also provides that use of pseudonyms on the Internet is banned. It also forbids any pornography or “inappropriate” photographs, though what constitutes “inappropriate” is never specified.
Laos has been a communist country since 1975 and has struggled with poverty for decades as a result. While the nation opened a stock market in 2011 in an attempt to attract foreign investment, its economic situation has continued to stagnate due to its relentless adherence to communism and the fostering of less than beneficial diplomatic relationships.
This month, Laos received delegates from the nation of Cuba to foster further bilateral relations, though neither country has managed to help the other’s fledgling economy. Laos’ closest ally is Vietnam, also impoverished; the nation sent delegates to Vietnam the same week it greeted Cuban diplomats and held talks on improving trade between the two countries. Laos has also begun extending a hand towards China, though the last meeting between representatives of the two nations had less to do with trade than security. According to Chinese state outlet Xinhua, Chinese officials announced the nation “hopes to further enhance cooperation on law enforcement and security with Laos in the Mekong River basin so as to turn the cooperation mechanism into a model of regional law enforcement cooperation.” Among the specific security areas discussed were “anti-terror, illegal immigration and cyber crime.” Like Laos, China has extremely tight policies on what citizens can and cannot say publicly.