Laos: Two Church Leaders Languish in Prison

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

By Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News Correspondent

laos prison mapVIETIANE, LAOS (Worthy News)-- A Lao pastor arrested six months ago for holding a secret meeting has lost weight and is very weak, according to his family.

Hinboun district police arrested Pastor Wanna, fellow Pastor Yohan and nine other Christians at gunpoint in early January, charging them with holding a "secret meeting" after they celebrated Christmas without offical permission.

Wanna pastored an unregistered church in Nakoon village, Hinboun district, while Yohan led another unregistered church in Tonglar village.

Police later sent the Christians to Khammouan provincial prison in Takkhet City where authorities promised that they would all "walk free" as soon as they signed documents renouncing their faith; most of the detainees were released after only paying fines.

However, prison conditions have taken their toll on Wanna; after a recent visit, family members saw he had lost weight, was ill, and looked extremely weak, according to Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom.

The families of both men have appealed for advocacy as they remain in prison on charges related to their faith.

"Our greatest concern right now is for these two men," a HRWLRF spokesman confirmed to Compass. "Presently, relatively speaking, there is less opposition and persecution of Christians, but these men need help."

A report issued in May by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reported that although Protestants in urban areas were usually able to worship without restrictions, provincial authorities continue to "severely violate freedom of religion or belief, particularly of ethnic minority Protestants." Last year, rights abuses, to include detentions, surveillance, harassment, property confiscation, forced relocations and forced renunciations of faith, have kept Laos on the Commission's Watch List for 2011.