Seven Christians arrested for prayer gathering, released in Laos

(Photo: REUTERS / Kham)A Dao woman walks past a church in Sapa town in northern Lao Cai province, 350 km (217 miles) from Hanoi September 2, 2007.

Authorities in Laos have freed seven out of the eight Christians, including a three-year-old child, arrested in September for flouting the orders of a village chieftain who banned prayer gatherings.

Only the pastor remained in custody after the followers were released on October 3, Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reported.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch said security officials from Boukham village in Savannakhet province, led by its chief, went to the house of Pastor Sompong Supatto on September 28, as he hosted lunch for his fellow Christians after a morning worship service.

The pastor and the Christian believers were brought to the Boukham village headquarters where they were detained.

Last week, authorities released seven of the Christians who had been detained.

They were identified as Manivanh, 60; Chai, 56; Anna, 50; Chanthanarm, 18; Neal, 21; Tiang, 3, and Petsamone, 40.

HRWLRF director Sirikoon Prasertsee said village officials earlier warned the pastor for conducting worship services in the house.

Prior to the warning, the pastor had gathering Christians for worship in Boukham village for about three to four years.

"The HRWLRF urges the Lao government to respect the right of the Lao people to religious freedom and the accompanying rights as guaranteed in the Lao constitution and the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Laos in 2009," the group's statement said.

"Any form of coercion impairing the freedom to have and manifest one's religion/belief of choice is condemned in the Covenant," it added.

The rights' group likewise called for sanctions to be imposed on the Boukham village chief and his staff for the arrest which overstepped their boundaries.

Human Rights Watch maintained the arrest was done illegally, and the government officials who carried out the actions should be punished.

Another five Christians are still languishing in prison in Savannakhet where they had been accused of murder. Despite the accusation, prosecutors have ruled that the Christians did not commit any crime.

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