St. Paul families plea for release of relatives held in Laos

Several St. Paul families are asking President Obama to demand the release of three Hmong-American men they say have been falsely imprisoned in Laos for nearly four years.

The three men are U.S. citizens.

A Washington-based human rights group, the Center for Public Policy Analysis, is also asking for the State Department to engage in high-level talks with the Laotian government.

The center's director, Philip Smith, said the men -- Hakit Yang, Conghineng Yang and Trillion Yunhaison -- traveled to Laos in 2007 to visit and explore investment opportunities.

Smith said according to multiple sources, including some inside the Lao government, the men were arrested and imprisoned without being charged with a crime.

"They were interrogated," Smith said. "They were held in very cramped conditions in a squalid facility there. And they were tortured."

Smith said the men were not political dissidents. However, he said it's possible the Lao military suspected they were.

Sheng Xiong said her husband Hakit Yang and the two other men were travelling in Laos in 2007 when they were arrested.

She said her husband was there to visit relatives and to explore some business opportunities. Xiong said State Department officials tell her that they're still working on the case but the Lao government isn't giving them any information.

"I just wish the Lao government would be upfront," Xiong said. "I just want to know where he is. Is he still alive? Is he still out there, you know?"

Xiong said rumors that the men were spies is ridiculous.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Philip Smith's first name. The current version is correct.