A Canadian family is demanding action from the federal government after a 28-year-old man died under mysterious circumstances at an airport in Laos.
Nara Pech’s family was told that he committed suicide on Jan. 22 while being detained in Laos’ Wattay International Airport.
But a number of voicemails he left in the hours before he died, combined with troubling autopsy results, are raising questions for Pech’s loved ones.
His sister Sarena Armsworthy says Pech left three messages telling people that Laosian authorities were “trying to hurt him” and preventing him from leaving the country.
She says officials in Laos reported her brother died of three stab wounds, but says autopsy results found many more than that on several parts of his body.
Armsworthy says the Canadian government hasn’t done enough to find out what really happened in Laos and says the family needs their help to learn the truth.
The Department of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We just want answers. We just want the truth,” Armsworthy said in a telephone interview from Edmonton. “They’re claiming that Nara committed suicide, and we don’t believe that at all.”
Armsworthy said Pech had left Canada in early January on a trip meant to celebrate his recent graduation from Toronto’s York University.
She said he and two friends travelled to the Pech family’s ancestral home of Cambodia, then visited Thailand and Laos.
His friends planned to extend their travels for a few weeks, but Armsworthy said her brother wanted to fly home to Toronto and rejoin his parents and fiancee.
“(His friends) took him to the airport, they took him as far as they could, which was through customs, and they watched him go through customs,” she said. “After that, everybody just assumed that he was already on the flight back home.”
But Pech was not homeward bound. According to information relayed to Pech’s parents, their son was detained for reasons that were not explained.
Pech’s family was told that their son tried to kill himself as a result of his detention and died of three self- inflicted stab wounds.
Police in Toronto broke the news to Pech’s father, who also heard the Laosian account of his son’s death through a consular official in Ottawa.
Armsworthy said the family was immediately skeptical of the suicide finding, saying it was entirely out of character for Pech to go on vacation in order to take his own life.
Their suspicions intensified after hearing voicemails he left for his parents, his fiancee’s parents and a friend back in Canada.
“In all three of them, he’s indicating that we need to call the embassy because they’re trying to hurt him,” Armsworthy said of the messages. “Security has confiscated his boarding pass, they won’t let him leave the airport.”
Armsworthy said Pech also tried to reach out to his fiancee, who he’d been dating for 13 years and was slated to marry in 2016, but got nowhere because she had accidentally left her phone at home that day.
The family’s certainty that something had gone amiss in Laos crystallized when his body was returned to Canada three weeks after his death.
Armsworthy said a Canadian autopsy found far more than three stab wounds, adding the injuries were on several parts of his body.
Consular representatives have told Armsworthy that police in Laos have refused to divulge information about how Pech died, but she has launched a petition in a bid to compel the government to probe for more details.
Learning the truth about her brother’s fate, she said, will be necessary in order for his loved ones to heal.
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Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press