Dupuis tells of jail ordeal after release from Laos

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Series Details Vol.7, No.42, 15.11.01, p4
Publication Date 15/11/2001
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Date: 15/11/01

By Martin Banks

OLIVIER Dupuis returned to the European Parliament in defiant mood this week after spending a fortnight in custody following his arrest during a pro-democracy demonstration in Laos.

The MEP, who was handcuffed, restrained with a heavy block of wood across his feet and put in an isolation cell, declared: "I'd do the same again."

Dupuis, a member of Emma Bonino's Italian Radicals, was one of five people given a two-year suspended prison sentence and expelled from the south-east Asian country after a 'show' trial.

The three-hour case, last Friday (9 November), followed the groups' arrest on 26 October for staging a demonstration in the capital, Vientaine.

They were protesting against the arrest of five Laos students, which took place two years ago. No one has heard from the students since. Back in Strasbourg this week, Dupuis told of his ordeal: "I would not hesitate to do the same again. What we went through is nothing compared with how the Laotians are treated." For the first six hours of his detention he was handcuffed, with a heavy block of wood on his feet to prevent him moving. Initially, he shared his cell with six others but then spent nine days in isolation. "Essentially, we had to rely on other prisoners for food and water. The kindness and solidarity they showed us was amazing. We weren't able to communicate with anyone and all my luggage was confiscated so that I was left with only the clothes I stood in. I was obviously relieved to get home but my heart goes out to the Laotians where we were held. They are treated far worse than we were."

Belgian-born Dupuis, 43, and his fellow protesters were charged with the distribution of "slanderous information discrediting the party and state" - a charge which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.

The other four detainees were Italians Bruno Mellano, Silvja Manzi and Massimo Lensi and Russian Nikolai Khramov. Nicole Fontaine, president of the European Parliament, condemned their arrest, saying: "It is intolerable that participation in a peaceful demonstration, whether by Europeans or Laotians, to freely express an opinion is repressed, in direct violation of the universal UN declaration of human rights."

Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief, interceded on behalf of Dupuis and the others last week in a strong protest to the Laos authorities.

MEP Olivier Dupuis has returned to the European Parliament after spending a fortnight in custody following his arrest during a pro-democracy demonstration in Laos.

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