Prisoners in Phonthong - Picture & Plan of the prison - Location of Phonthong Prison
Exclusive Photos from Inside Phonthong Prison

Phonthong Prison Information
Phonthong Prison, located at Ban Phonthong Vientiane Lao PDR (10 minutes from the city centre). Approximately 63 metre x 93 metre) it was built as a refugee centre by the UN but upon completion in 1994, was used as a detention centre for foreigners and political prisoners. A simple concrete complex surrounded by a concrete perimeter wall 3-metres high topped with a 50-centimetre V-shaped three-strand barbed wire fence. Fluorescent lighting spaced approximately 4 metres apart along the perimeter wall illuminates the perimeter. Security floodlights suspended from a 5-metre high steel pole, are positioned at each corner of the perimeter wall.

There are two separate prison blocks having ten concrete cells to a block. Five cells facing north and backing onto five cells facing south. Each cell approximately (4 metre x 4 metre) accommodates up to six prisoners per cell (fluctuates from time to time) and has a small dimly lit washroom containing a squat (floor) toilet and water trough for showering. The cells themselves do not have lighting. A fluorescent-lit verandah runs the full length outside each block. Police patrol this on the hour (24 hours) . Each cell has a main security door (steel bars) with three sliding pad bolts, two of which are padlocked at all times, external heavy wooden one lock cell door, two front bared windows and a raised wooden floor for sleeping.

In comparison to 'domestic' prisons (predominately for Lao people) the prison is of a higher standard and does not have a 'dark room' (0.5 metre x 1 metre) or solitary confinement cell that is used for extreme punishment of prisoners incarcerated for undetermined periods or death. However, each cell in Phonthong can be boarded closed by the shutters on the windows to make a 'dark room'.

Phonthong Prison Punishment
Breaches of prison regulations may result in any of the following;
  • Denied exercise periods and confinement to cell;
  • Wooden blocks secured to the legs and confinement to cell for an undetermined period;
  • Food depravation from external sources ie: family, Embassy or other;
  • Beatings, kicking, telephono, torment;
  • Solitary confinement (doors and shutters locked, shutting out light and proper ventilation);
  • Threats of transfer to other prisons i.e.: Sam Neau (Northern Jail); or to the dark room;
Phonthong Prison Torture and Treatment
Examples of the techniques used by Laos police are listed below. These are taken from eyewitness accounts, actual torture experiences of foreigners who have left Phonthong and other prisoner statements taken by Amnesty International.
(This treatment is not restricted only to political prisoners)
  • Beatings
  • Burning
  • Asphyxiation
  • Stretching
  • Genital torture
  • Dental fractures
  • Exposure to heat and cold
  • Solitary confinement
  • Starvation
  • Mind altering drugs
  • Death Threats
  • Mock executions
  • Pain
  • Isolation
  • Uncertainty of release
  • Sleep deprivation
    Most prisoners share at least one, more than one or ALL of the following;
  • Recurring recollections of trauma;
  • Nightmares and sleep difficulties;
  • Anger, intense fear and helplessness;
  • Malnutrition;
  • Suicidal tendencies;
  • Deep depression, anxiety;
  • Inability to cope;
  • Insanity.
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    Australians taken hostage in Laos 2000

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    “We are doing everything we can to bring them home”
    Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard

    Phonthong Prison Bedding
    Bedding is not supplied and mattresses are against the regulations. The prison has a small supply of thin wool blankets but these are limited supplies, as are the supplies of mosquito netting which only serve to increase the temperature in the cell, so are seldom used.

    Most prisoners are forced to share blankets with other prisoners (if they have one) to make a less than comfortable bed to sleep on. Prisoners sleep touching side by side and head to toe. Those who leave Phonthong Prison always do so without their bedding.

    Phonthong Prison Wood
    Some prisoners if granted permission by police, establish small, makeshift cooking areas.

    Wood is supposed to be provided free of charge, according to the prison regulations but prisoners are charged approximately 30,000 kip (US$3) per metre. Electricity is not readily available to prisoners so those with money, purchase the wood for cooking and those without money, go without or rely on the foreigners with money to help them!

    Consular Access for Prisoners in Phonthong Prison
    In general, consular access is extremely difficult to obtain due to administrative processes adopted by the Ministry of Interior (MOI) Department of Police. If there is no country representation in Laos, then foreign nationals of that country are denied consular access. Even prisoners who have Embassy representation are not automatically granted consular access.

    Access is restricted as follows;

    • Australians, Commonwealth and US Citizens may apply for one fifteen minute visit per month.
    • Other nationalities may apply for one fifteen minute visit per quarter.

    Consular access is not offered voluntarily. Once approval has been obtained the prisoner is transported under armed escort to the Immigration Office where the meeting is recorded and supervised by both prison police and Immigration officials. Transport to consular access is unreliable and at times not available. When this occurs, the prisoner is not informed and must wait until either the Embassy actions or they must wait for their next consular visit. No advance warning is given to the prisoner of the p ending consular access visit. Newspapers, books, magazines, radios are not permitted inside the prison as they believe it may contribute to political awareness.

    Without consular access, prisoners will suffer needlessly through lack of medical support, legal aid, and contact with family who might send food supplies in order for their loved one to survive.

    Phonthong Prison Food
    Morning Meal (10:30am)
    One bowl of pig fat water soup per room served with substandard sticky rice (small stones and husk) 250g per room

    Afternoon Meal (3:30pm)
    One bowl of pig fat water soup per room served with substandard sticky rice (small stones and husk) 250g per room

    This menu never changes for 365 days of the year, except when the prison police cannot sell their catfish to the market outside in the City. see below.

    Fish paste diet:
    There are numerous water trenches and ponds in the prison (built by the prisoners) and allocated to senior prison officers. Prisoners with money are 'propositioned' by prison police to purchase catfish. Nurtured by the prisoners who are responsible for the purchase of fish food until the fish are large enough to eat. At the discretion of the senior prison officer owning the particular pond, fish are harvested and sold outside. A percentage is sold to the prison kitchen, paid for under the prison budget.

    The fishpond nearby the kitchen has a sewerage outlet flowing directly into it. The catfish from this pond, when harvested are made into fish paste to substitute the usual daily diet of water soup. Distributed at approximately three tablespoons per room. This continues daily for all meals until all the prison officers' fish are purchased.

    Phonthong Prison Daily Routine
    Probationers are prisoners locked in the cell until the completion of their investigation. It is not unusual for prisoners to be confined for periods not less than one year. The Prison Commander uses his discretion regarding the length of time and number of times a prisoner is allowed outside the cell. Most probation periods are a minimum of six months and do not have a set period of confinement. Paralysis of the knees is not uncommon due to restricted movement of the prisoner in such close confinement a nd diet. Prisoners on full privileges are released from the cells at 0800 hours daily for roll call and assigned to work detail or recreation time. Twice monthly, random cell inspections are conducted unannounced. Prisoners are locked in their cells during this and opened at random.

    At 1115 hours all prisoners are returned to their cells and locked until 1300 hours after which those with full privileges are released and must use the remainder of the day for work or recreation (pending the Commander's schedule). At 1600 hours final roll call occurs and positive reinforcement of prison regulations and repetition of communist party policy indoctrinated. At 1800 hours the wooden external door to the cell is locked reducing ventilation and increasing cell temperature (60 degree). Timings remain similar on weekends and public holidays with the exception that only one or two prisoners are released from each cell. On special holidays for example the Lao New Year (7 days), That Luang Festival (6 days), all male prisoners are denied exercise privileges and remain locked in their cells for the duration. The purpose of this is to allow the Prison to operate on skeleton staff over each period.

    Prisoners must lower to their knees in the squat position whenever addressing a guard. They must always be lower than the guards as a show of submission. Prisoners must beg the guards to go out and re-enter their cell .

    Request United Nation intervention to make strong representations to encourage greater awareness of human rights regulations to reduce violations.

    Develop an independent inspection committee to access foreign prisoners and information for the greater protection of human rights;

    Monitor information of prisoner release dates, monitor and follow up. Most overstay their release due to lack of or denied support from legal assistance, family or friends);

    Establish standards and monitor regulations regarding conditions of incarceration;

    Have a UN representative attend all foreigner court proceedings and to provide legal support where none is available;

    Implement International regulations to direct local authorities to report to a UN authority or group when a foreigner is incarcerated in a Laos jail; and

    Where there is no Embassy established in country, the prisoner must be able to gain support from UNHCR or a similar organization. This will ensure their basic needs are met; clothing, bedding, medical support, sanitary items for women, food or fertilizer and seeds to grow vegetables and also to undertake consular access.

    Just in case you forgot - read the Universal declaration of Human Rights
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