01/12/2011, 00.00
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11 Christians arrested in Laos for celebrating Christmas, 3 remain in custody

The arrest took place on January 4, during a prayer meeting - authorized by authorities - to celebrate the birth of Jesus Today, three Christian leaders are in jail on charges of having "organized a secret meeting." Families forced to sign papers to "renounce their faith."

Vientiane (AsiaNews / Agencies) – Three Christian leaders still in jail, arrested by Lao police during a raid last January 4 on charges of holding “a secret meeting”, reports Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (Hrwlrf). In fact, the faithful gathered in prayer had obtained the necessary permits from government authorities. At first the police detained 11 people, but eight of them were released in the days after the arrest.

Hrwlrf sources confirm that the three Protestant leaders - Pastors Wanna, Chanlai and Kan - they are charged with a "political crime". They are from the Hinboun district in the province of Khammouane (central Laos) and are leading figures of the Khammouan domestic church.

The arrest took place on January 4 in Wanna’s house as faithful gathered to celebrate Christmas. In December, he had informed officials that would hold a vigil on Jan. 5. For the Lao Evangelical Church - Christian association linked to the Communist Party - the official Christmas celebrations run from December 5 to January 15. On the evening of January 4, a police raided Wanna’s house and arrested the 11 people present for holding a "secret meeting".  At that time of their arrest they were having their evening meal.

The arrests are just the latest in a series of violations of religious freedom in the Lao province of Khammouane. Last May, pastor Wanna and other Christians were subjected to imprisonment, death threats and pressures an were only released after they signed a document “renouncing their faith”.  Families who visited the house of prayer were forced to undergo  days to "re-education" and were accused of "collusion with the enemy" (the U.S.).
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