12/22/2011, 00.00
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Eight Lao Christians in prison for Christmas

The authorities have not yet charged them. They were detained for “organising” a celebration with 200 Church members. Police and local village officials meet to decide their fate as religious freedom continues to be denied in the Communist nation.
Vientiane (AsiaNews) – Eight Lao Christian leaders arrested on 16 December for “organising” a Christmas visit with 200 Church members are still in jail, this according to human rights activists who say that police travelled on Boukham village in Savannakhet Province, site of the incident, to meet local officials in order to decide what to do with the detainees.

Quoted by Compass Direct News, Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reported that the leaders had permission for Friday's event from Boukham's village chief.

However, village security forces entered the building, isolated the eight leaders, blindfolded and handcuffed some before marching them off to Boukham government headquarters, where they were detained without charge. “It is quite clear that they were arrested for gathering people for worship," an HRWLRF spokesman told Compass.

On Sunday, Lao Evangelical Church representatives managed to negotiate the release of one of the detainees, who goes by the name of Kingnamosorn, after paying a fine of 1 million kip (US$ 123) to the village chief. By comparison, the average monthly wage for an unskilled labourer in the province is close to US .

The content of the discussion between village leaders and police remains unknown, but when police left the village, the chief ordered the unrestrained detainees to be handcuffed as well.

Most people in Communist Laos are Buddhist (67 per cent). Out of a population of 6 million, 0.7 per cent is Catholic, often victims of persecution and restrictions on their religious freedom.

AsiaNews has already covered cases of farmers denied food for their faith (see “Food denied to 65 Laotian farmers to force them to renounce Christianity,” in AsiaNews, 25 February 2011) or clergymen arrested by the authorities (see “Fears for lives of Protestant pastors in prison for six months,” in AsiaNews, 12 July 2011).
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