07/19/2005, 00.00
LAOS
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Two Christians sentenced to three years in prison

Vientiane (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Two Laotian Christians, Khamchan and Vangthong, were arrested three months ago and later sentenced to three years in prison.

Lao Foreign Ministry spokesman Yong Chanthalangsy said the two were accused of "illegal possession of weapons", but the Paris-based Laotian Movement for Human Rights (Mouvement laotien pour les droits de l'homme or MLDH) reported instead that Khamchan and Vanthong were sentenced because of their Christian faith.

The two were part of a group of 11 believers arrested Easter week-end in a village in the southern province of Savannakhet.

The group was detained in the prison of Muang Phine, but the other nine were released after officially renouncing their faith.

Since 1975, Laos has been under a Communist regime, but after 1991 a certain democratisation has taken place. The constitution upholds the principle of freedom of religion, but for all intents and purposes, religious practice is allowed only within limits set by the government.

According to the 2005 Aid to the Church in Need report, 48.8 per cent of the Laotian population is Buddhist; another 41.7 per cent is Animist; whilst Christians constitute 2.1 per cent of the total.

Catholics, many of whom are of Vietnamese origin, live in the central and southern part of the country.

Protestants belonging to the Evangelical Church of Laos and Seventh-Day Adventist Church are found throughout the country.

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