09/21/2015, 00.00
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Arrested for praying, Laotian Christian dies in prison for lack of treatment

Tiang, a married father of six, died in jail waiting before his appeal could be heard. Although he suffered from diabetes, prison officials repeatedly denied him treatment. He and four others had been convicted for praying on behalf of a terminally ill woman, an act the authorities deemed an “improper medical treatment”.

Vientiane (AsiaNews) – Laos has seen a spate of new cases of anti-Christian persecution. The latest one involves a man who died in prison from complications related to diabetes, which went untreated because prison authorities refused him proper care despite the visible deterioration in his health.

The dead man was a certain Mr Tiang, a Christian from the village of Huey, in Atsaphangthong district, Savannakhet province, a married and father of six, Human rights Watch for lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reports.

After the People’s Court in Savannakhet convicted him, he appealed his sentence, but the authorities failed to consider his request within the legally required delay.

At the same time, as soon as he was jailed, his health took a turn for the worse. For this reason, he requested medical care, but was denied.

The case dates back to February, when Tiang was convicted along with four other Christians for "abuse of the medical profession" and sentenced to nine months in prison and a hefty fine.

In reality, all the five did was to visit a woman and pray for her recovery. She had been ill for five years and was in the terminal phase of her disease, which eventually killed her.

For Laotian authorities, Christians caused the woman’s death and were arrested and convicted for this reason. For the judges, praying amounts to a "medical treatment" that is ineffective, even harmful, and as such should be punished.

Activists and human rights groups have appealed to the Laotian government to punish prison officials whose conduct led to Tiang’s death and to release immediate the other four prisoners because they are innocent.

Tiang’s case is not unique. Increasingly, individual Christians and Christian communities have had to endure violence and persecution.

In early September, a Protestant clergyman died during a kidnapping attempt, which apparently involved a police officer. Previously, two community leaders were arrested on charges of "spreading the Christian religion."

Since the Communists came to power in 1975, and the resulting expulsion of foreign missionaires, the Christian minority in Laos has been under strict controls, its right to worship limited.

In a country of six million people, most people (67 per cent) are Buddhist. Christians make up about 2 per cent of the total; 0.7 per cent of them are Catholic.

Protestant communities have suffered the most from religious persecution, a situation AsiaNews documented in the past. Cases include peasants deprived of food for their faith and clergymen arrested by the authorities.

Controls have been tightened since April 2011, when protests led by some groups within the country's Hmong ethnic minority sparked a violent crackdown.

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